This is a testimonial in favor of something that is very common in Nicaragua, and almost non-existent in the United States right now: the straight razor shave.
Shaving in Central America has been tricky. I use an old school safety razor—a gift from my friend John Rodli—a badger-hair brush, and a cake of bay rum shaving soap. I’m a big fan of wet shaving, but the problem for me in Central America has been the lack of hot water. Very few places have it, and those that do are usually out of my price range. As a result, I went unshaven for the first several weeks of the trip. When I finally did shave, I found all but one of my blades had gone rusty from the humidity, and the shave I did get was mediocre one.
So in Matagalpa, I went the old school way. I went to Barberia Telica and let Señor Francisco Mendoza do his thing.
Señor Mendoza, doing his thing.
For those of you who’ve never had a straight razor shave, you’re missing out. It’s a ritual from an earlier time, and it’s a shame more U.S. barber shops don’t make a habit of doing it. I don’t know that there’s a way to feel more pampered and more manly at the same time. My own experience went like this:
I sit down in an old school barber chair while Señor Mendoza hits the leaver so I am leaning back, then lifts the headrest for me to lean my cranium upon. As I say, hot water is a luxury, so he has a little bowl of water with an electrified coil off to the side. He plugs it in, and the coil heats the water. Then he dips a towel in and puts it across my face to open the pores. He asks at each stage if I’m comfortable, if the water is too hot, and so on. Then he removes the towel, lathers my face with shaving cream, strops the razor, and goes to work.
Me before the shave.
The first pass is the easy one, as the razor goes with the grain. This gets the bulk of the beard off. Then comes another warm towel, another bit of shaving cream, and the second pass, which goes across and/or against the grain. This where I start to feel vulnerable, as the man is doing some serious scraping right around my throat. If nothing else, a straight razor shave makes you appreciate your own mortality.
And speaking of mortality, the final portion of the shave is where the real fun kicks in. In a lot of places, the final step would involve after-shave, a nice bracing splash to close up the pores. Not in Nicaragua. Here, you get a chunk of ice run across your freshly shaved skin. And let me tell you, it stings like you wouldn’t believe. Señor Mendoza seemed to enjoy my reaction, and my rather impressive struggle to remain manly in the face of crippling ouchiness. Perhaps all barbers have a sadistic streak. I dunno.
The barbers. They are smiling because they can kill you anytime they feel like it
In any case, that wasn’t the end, because in Nicaragua, you get the full service treatment. Even though my hair is very short, Señor Mendoza took the time to clean up my sideburns, the area around my ears, the back of my head, and even my ear and nose hair (don’t judge me). Then he combed my hair, sat me up, and presented his impressive final work.
Me after the shave.
I like barbershops, and I think it’s a shame they’ve lost a lot of their status in the States. There’s a ritual to a shave and a haircut that’s worth waiting for, and paying for. Although it’s considerably easier on the pocketbook down Nicaragua way. The full service I got might have run 30 or 40 dollars in the U.S.A. Señor Mendoza charged five bucks.