“I have to go make my legs look pretty,” my friend said as she turned toward the avenue with the salon. “I need to go get them waxed.” Oh yes, the notorious waxes of Brazil, I thought, and I chuckled at the thought of me going to have one myself. When people think of waxing, they think of the infamous “Brazilian Wax Job,” but in reality many women here go to salons to get their legs waxed in lieu of shaving them. It results in much smoother cut, and akin to de-rooting a weed instead of trimming it, a wax promotes much slower after-growth of body hair.
I can’t say I’m the best-kept traveler. To preserve space in my backpack, I carry just one small bar of soap saved from the last hotel I stayed at. I use that for shaving, shampoo, and laundry. I try to shower everyday but in these tropical areas, my clothes are always a bit mildewy. It was time to change my ways, time to make up for my slothfulness, and what better way than a “dipulacion completa” or full brazilian wax job. I didn’t just want to get the legs, I wanted to do the whole shebang, one step closer to being like a Brazilian stud from Copacabana. Being in the waxing capital of the world, I figured bring it on! Carpe diem!
So here I am in Macapa, probably the last city in my travels that would do a waxing. Embarrassment and faulty Portuguese had stood in my way from getting one so far, but I knew it was now or never. I approached the receptionist at my hotel and in Portuguese I asked her something that sounded like this: “Wax legs, body, everything….where can I?”
She giggled. “You want to wax your legs?”
“I want everything! Legs, chest, face…I want the full experience.”
“No…what pain!!!! NOOOO!” This was not the response I was anticipating. I guess this sounded a bit crazy, even for a Brazilian. By this point it didn’t matter. Getting a wax was all I wanted, it had become an obsession, and if I left the Brazilian border without a waxing experience I would look back on my trip as a failure.
I convinced her to at least give me directions, and I promised that if the workers at the salon discouraged it, then I would retire to the hotel for the evening. Armed with a map and address, I zigzagged around puddles for eleven dark blocks, until I found what I was looking for. I looked in to the salon’s window to see what I was up against. No wax in sight, just a bunch of women getting their hair done and feet pedicure. I knocked on the locked door, and they let in the wet, desperate gringo.
“So do you give waxes here?” I asked the man who looked like was in charge.
“We sure do. What would you like?”
“I want it all.”
Silence filled the room, scissors stopped trimming, and clients turned their heads to see this burly, pain-tolerant man in their presence.
“Wow. Yes, we can do that.” Looking around this chic establishment, I for the first time realized that this probably wasn’t going to be cheap. I asked how much, and he showed me a number that converted to well over a hundred dollars! No, I screamed inside my brain. Suddenly I felt that I would never achieve my dream. I had to compromise.
“Ok, how about just the chest?” And within minutes a cauldron of wax was heating up in the back.
I walked into the back room to meet my “waxing technician,” a native of Macapa, who greeted me with a smile and a setup that ironically looked more like a massage table than the torture chamber that I was anticipating.
“First time?” she asked. Apparently my smile and discomfort with the whole situation revealed my naiveté in the world of Brazilian salons. I ripped off my shirt, displayed my soon-not-to-be hairy chest, and lied down on the table. She pulled out a giant chop stick and dipped it into the fiery cauldron of wax. I closed my eyes; I hadn’t felt so much tension in my body since a session of colonic hydrotherapy.
1-2-3…She laid on the hot wax in a strip across my left sternum. Ah…ah…ah…wait, that wasn’t bad at all, a pain no worse than submersing one’s chest in a hot tub. I laughed at all my friends who told that a chest wax would be too much agony. She layered another strip on my other side. I laughed again at the sight of two brown strips across my chest; they looked exactly like the dried banana strips I used to buy at Trader Joe’s.
She quickly pulled off the first strip. “F_$#@!$*!” An unexpected bullet of pain shook my body. What the hell was this? I thought a wax meant that they put wax on you, and they slowly scrape it off your bare chest. This was more like the duct tape scene from Forty Year Old Virgin. She just ripped it off like it was child’s play, and revealed a whole mess of chest hair. That really hurt, and the fact that it was just one of a whole lot more to come didn’t make things easier.
The agony continued. The first round of waxing is the worst because that’s when the biggest quantities are pulled off – we’re talking 16 years of hair growth here. I needed a distraction. “So what’s your name?” I asked her.
“No way! That’s the name of my high school girlfriend.” Apparently there was some miscommunication, because Jessica immediately flashed her wedding ring, and told me that she wasn’t interested. I didn’t want a girlfriend. I just wanted someone to hold my hand through this process, and in an instant I lost my only ally in the room. “Be gentle,” I pled as she ripped off another wax strip off of my nipple.
As she finished the first round of waxes, I knew I was home free. The rest was just waxing the little hairs that were missed in the initial treatment. Furthermore my entire chest and stomach had earned a state of numbness that would tolerate a slap from Queen Latifah. Nothing would stop me now.
As Jessica pulled away the last strip, I put my hand on my chest, which was bare for the first time in 16 years. What a weird sensation. It was like licking your front teeth after having your braces off, or stroking your cheek after shaving for the first time in months.
I stood up and looked in the mirror at this new man and his numb chest, lobster-red from all the wax removals. Proud to have persisted through this experience, I also had a feeling of “what the hell am I doing here?” as I looked at the stylish environment around me. I thought of all my friends back in the States and all the harassment I will receive when I get home for doing this. And then I thought, screw that, I’m going to go out and lie beneath the sun. I’m in Brazil after all.