Lucho, the barber of Tulum
(translation by Raffaella Rossi)
A black, flea-ridden dog is passing by, so skinny you can see its pointy bones poking through the shiny fur. A man, lanky and with mustaches, is telling Lucho and his customer about some miraculous aphrodisiacs products, seemingly able to boost male virility. The customer is listening and pretending interest but, to be fair he really has no choice, since Lucho’s hands, although expert with scissors and razor, are also very slow. Lucho is a barber, an inexpensive one, owner of the peluqueria (barber shop) that bears his name, a tiny room located on a dusty side street of Tulum. The walls are covered with historical photos and the usual joke signs that make new and old customers laugh: “No credit except to older than 95, accompanied by their parents and grandparents” or “Following to Jorge Bergoglio’s recommendation we do not give credit here”.
We have been in Tulum for a few days, a Mexican city of the Riviera Maya, in the Quintana Roo state, region of Southern Yucatan. Tulum is about 3 kilometers from the seaside and it has grown around the busy road that connects Belize with the famous touristic hubs of Cancun and Playa del Carmen. We are on the Caribbean Coast of Mexico, a beautiful land rich in cenotes: huge circular caves located in the forest, windows to a fascinating underground world, aquatic but almost lunar, lacking of fish but full of incredible stalactites and stalagmites.
I am waiting for my turn in this sunny, hot and humid afternoon of May. Lucho works slowly, almost matching the rhythm of the Caribbean Sea waves, only few kilometers away. Outside, overweight Mexican men with mustaches, mothers taking their children to play football, stinky and noisy bikes roaming the city streets, minibuses taking their workers to the Hotels on Playa del Carmen stopping by every ten minutes and shouting their final destination.
Not far, the beautiful white beaches of Mexico, squeezed between lush green palm trees and and turquoise sea of a thousands shades. The sea this year is suffering the high temperature and releasing brown algae that are infesting the shore and creating a 30-40 centimeters barrier that the tourists have to cross before diving in the warm, crystal-clear Caribbean waters.
The clouds are scudding across the Mexican sky and quickly running off into the sunset. The black dog comes back, following short and overweight women in shorts, walking and dragging their flip-flops on the asphalt. A group of children, laughing, cycle by heading back home. An old black Beetle, hand-painted and dusty, sits tired under the Mexican sun. Lucho is carries on his slow and precise cutting job, wearing a black smock, discoloured and with few holes, mended by now several times by his wife. The smock covers a lean body, almost consumed, of a over 60 years old man. His legs, skinny but stable, still supporting his dance around the customer’s heads.
Pretty tired of waiting, I find myself wondering on the history of this ancient town, one of the few where you can still admire the Maya ruins by the sea. The Maya, a wild, well-educated and advanced in several fields, from astronomy to maths but above all able to survive and thrive both in the dense forests of Mexico and Guatemala and on the heights of the Sierra Madre in Chiapas; on the flat and green Yucatan, trading with the population from north and the south, and the coast of Honduras.
Finally the last client pays up and Lucho asks me to take a seat. I enter the small room and sit on the chair, very comfortable but worn out and broken in some points. I discover a wall that I couldn’t see from outside, covered with diplomas for attending training courses for barbers, a turtle shell and even a Native American dream catcher to separate the front of the shop from the back room, presumably the house of Lucho. I also spot a funny anti-alcohol rhyme titled “Testament of an alcoholic”, which brings me back to the complex Mexican situation where the poorest fringe of the society often fall into distress, alcoholism and drug addiction, sometimes followed by a recovery driven by AA meetings or religious sects offering support and hope of a better future.
Lucho’s razor is moving slowly on my skull and giving me time to explore the interesting and colourful walls of the peluqueriawhich, besides religious images, hosts pictures of Che Guevara and Emiliano Zapata, the great hero of the Mexican revolution in 1910.
Lucho has finished, I look at myself in the mirror and notice some hair locks sticking out that I probably retouch home, maybe with Daniela’s help. Between wait and cut, I have been here for almost an hour, the orange sun is starting to gently changing colour the dusty streets of Tulum. I then pay and leave, more satisfied for the chance of experiencing a common day of this Mexican town than for the cut itself. An afternoon that I will carry with me forever.
Tulum is also this, it tastes of tequila and Sol beer, of picnic on the beach with noisy Mexican families, of boiled corn with mayonnaise, cheese and chili, tortillas and quesadillas, avocado and lemon, salt and sun. Above all, Tulum tastes of life, simplicity and warm Caribbean smiles, like Lucho’s who is thanking me for choosing him as a barber, without realizing how grateful I am for the afternoon just gone, simple and unique, magically unforgettable…pure Mexico.