by Julie Dupuis

Familiarity. Confidence. Sometimes you just have to let them go. How about incompatibility and uncertainty? Transitions aren’t always easy—that’s what I told myself when I decided to crop my hair short before travelling sola to Ecuador and Peru for three months.

The locks fell away and I was smitten. Why did I ever have long hair? External self-discovery before setting off backpacking for the first time—now that’s rare. I didn’t wonder what more my hair could teach me; although, in hindsight, being told that I looked like a teenage boy by the grumpy owner of our small-town convenience store should have foreshadowed some of my nomadic encounters…

In Ecuador, wandering the streets of Quito with hardly any Spanish to speak of (or with), two guys on Calle Guayaquil made eye contact with me, gestured to their own heads, and smiled. I took it as a compliment, although I still wonder if that’s how they really intended it.

Weeks later, imbibing the spectacular views on the bus zipping towards the border town of Piura, Peru, I met a pair of German travelers. Jakob had a way cooler ’do than I did: an afro! Pia warned me what would happen with all this crazy hair around, but I had my doubts. No one’s that rude.

Wrong again. Walking along the streets, people would stare, point and laugh at Jakob! Wow… Then it happened again. And again. Unbelievable! But their laughter was so good-natured it was contagious. I left town with a grin and a heads-up.

Eventually it was my turn for some ribbing. A botched trim in Puerto Maldonado, a jungle town in Peru’s Amazon Basin, did it for me. The hairdresser didn’t believe I actually needed a haircut and reminded me that I already had short hair. However, a slave to the jungle heat, I was undeterred.

Engrossed in conversation with Sonia, who was sitting next to me, I didn’t notice anything amiss until the hairdresser removed clippers from her drawer. I glanced in the mirror and realized it was too late. It would have to be a buzz cut! I was stunned, but hey, accidents happen.

Still, I reddened when, between bursts of laughter, Sonia invited me to the discoteca that night. Throughout my journey southward, I found that local women were intimidated by me. I conversed mostly with men but I missed female companionship. Turns out that hair disasters are truly rewarding—they unite women all over the world!

Minutes after leaving the salon, as I ambled towards Plaza de Armas rubbing my head in amazement, I don’t know how many people pointed and laughed at my fuzz. Sonia’s mirth had assured me. I welcomed the opportunity to try something different and chuckled along with them.

Later, hangin’ out with some Peruvian friends, I was immensely gratified by Gabriel who, laughing of course, said that I must be a very strong woman to have a haircut like that.

I came away from South America with adaptability and insouciance. Since then, I no longer make the distinction between laughing at someone and laughing with someone. The people I met in Ecuador and Peru taught me that it’s all in the way you take a joke, especially when you’re the joke.

About the Author

Julie is a 20-something Canadian woman who loves to travel and to read and write about traveling. She has traveled by herself, with friends, and with her family, whether independently, with tour companies, or to resorts. A keen environmentalist, she volunteered at Merazonia Animal Reserve in Ecuador while the center was still in construction. Less than a year after leaving Merazonia, she organized a hugely successful fundraiser for the center, which has now begun to accept animals. She also volunteered at Picaflor Research Center in Peru, but sadly, the project is no longer active. Julie is an avid hiker who has trekked the Inca Trail in Peru and the La Cloche Silhouette Trail in Killarney Provincial Park, Ontario. She obtained an MA in English Literature in 2005 and two years later, she completed a creative book publishing program with a specialization in editing. She previously held a writing position in the finance industry but escaped the soul-crushing environment to travel. She is now teaching ESL in Busan, South Korea.