We can hardly believe it. 324 days ago, we packed our bags and flew west to Tokyo. We had little idea what to expect, but we knew that 11 months seemed like forever and that we’d have plenty of time to figure things out.
Clearly we were having fun, because those 11 months have quickly come and gone. Today we fly from Istanbul back to San Francisco, where we’ll be settling in and trying to readjust to “normal” life.
There’s much to reflect upon and write about, and hopefully we’ll get a chance to share thoughts and stories in the coming weeks. In the mean time, here’s one last vignette from our final destination, Istanbul.
After almost a year of wearing the same 3-4 outfits (which we often hand-wash in tiny sinks), sweating profusely, being sticky with sunscreen and bug spray, and sometimes sporting excessively shaggy hair, I think it’s fair to say we are due for a bit of spit and polish before we return to the US.
I’m not saying that we’ve gone feral: we still wear deodorant and shower every day, unless we’re camping. Kristin may not be wearing makeup this year, and I may not have shaved in a while, but we are almost certainly the best smelling people on any hot, crowded Istanbul streetcar.
As I mentioned before, one of my favorite long-term travel experiences has been getting haircuts in different countries. I’ve had five already: in Cambodia, Thailand, New Zealand, Costa Rica, and rural Italy. Kristin and I were both overdue for a trim, so we found a pair of men’s and women’s shops in our Istanbul neighborhood.
It turns out that Istanbul is a great place for a haircut on the road. Salons and barbershops are a major cultural institution in the city, where fashionable Turkish women reportedly have their hair professionally washed and styled every few days. We were excited to see what the experience would be like.
Anticlimactically, Kristin’s haircut was straightforward and familiar, apart from the language barrier. Just a small, basic salon, and a nice, quick haircut.
Turkish barbershops, however, are an entirely different beast. I sat in the waiting area, sipping the ubiquitous Turkish çay, and watched two older gentlemen receive precise cuts and styles — made semi-permanent with lots of hairspray — from two elderly barbers. These cuts were very thorough: I waited nearly an hour before my turn.
When I sat down in the chair, the barber had me lean forward (face-first) into a sink. This was novel, I thought: an otherwise ordinary shampoo became more exciting as the soap and water flooded my face. I strategically breathed through my nose or mouth, depending on which was unobstructed at that moment. As I sat up, the barber smothered my face with a towel and briskly shook my head around, wringing every drop of water out of my hair. It sounds unpleasant, but it was surprisingly relaxing.
Long story short, after a flurry of scissors and razors and other sharp implements, I received an excellent haircut, perhaps the best of the trip. Just one more memorable experience to add to an unforgettable year.
Stay tuned: we’ll share some more stories, photos, and statistics with you in the coming weeks.