Yesterday I pushed my comfort zone to brand new levels, and went to lengths I couldn’t have dreamed of even two or three months ago. I went on an urban adventure… by myself. All alone. I journeyed into unknown territory, braving the perils of the urban jungle, all in search of one goal, that holy grail of my time here: an English speaking hairstylist. Despite the rain and railroad tracks that attempted to thwart my progress, I triumphed! And even came out of it with a good haircut. Wow. What success.

After my last two attempts at getting a haircut in Portuguese ended with an alarmingly nonfat mushroom, I decided to look elsewhere. I got a recommendation from a friend of ours for a hairdresser who had lived in London for 20 years. Perfect. Even so, because she was much further away from our flat, I waited until I couldn’t stand it any more to make an appointment. By the time I finally called her on Friday, I think I could’ve won a David Bowie lookalike contest:

When the time for my appointment came, I set out from home a good 45 minutes in advance, since I didn’t know the area very well. I hopped the metro and got off only one stop further than the shopping center where we usually go to see movies. My internal map of Lisbon stopped at that shopping center, but I could at least see it on the horizon to orient myself.

Other than that reassuring landmark though, I had no clue where to go. I had brought a map with me, on which I’d carefully marked my route and destination ahead of time. However, it turned out that the road I’d chosen to walk down was a flyover, which had sidewalks but no offramps to access the streets around it.

By the time I realized this, the rain that had been falling on and off all day was back again, so I pulled on my raincoat and retraced my steps to try a different approach. I trudged down a road that ran parallel to where I needed to go, figuring I could cut upwards on a smaller road than the one I’d first attempted. But no — the reason there was a flyover was because there were train tracks underneath it. And the road I’d chosen to cut upwards on did not cross the train tracks, but instead disappeared into a tunnel underneath the tracks. DOH!

Feeling defeated but not willing to give up just yet, I turned around again, at a loss as to how the hell I could access the world on the other side of the tracks. (Who would’ve thought a privileged white girl like me would ever have cause to ask that question?!) Just as I decided to cry mercy and pulled out my phone to call Gabe, I spotted it: a pedestrian bridge over the tracks. Aha! Triumph!

So I mounted the metal stairs and crossed to the other side, sneering at the railroad and its puny attempts to thwart me. Ha! You can’t get me down, railroad!

To my delight, the road at the other end of the bridge was precisely the one I was looking for. Woohoo! After walking up that street some blocks, I found my destination, but at first despaired that I’d come to the wrong place: it was not a salon at all, it was an office building. Luckily, one of the buttons by the door was helpfully labeled “Cabeleiro.” Whew!

I had made it, at last, and was even on time. Of course the hairdresser wasn’t, but I didn’t care — I was there! I had found it! And she did in fact speak perfect English, with a delightful Portuguese tinge to her British accent. Her salon is in a small apartment, converted for the purpose, and while she finished the client before me, I entertained myself by looking around. The bathroom had a pink thigh master hanging on a hook on the wall, as well as the tiniest corner shower I’d ever seen, with literally a foot and a half of space curtained off (and unused, thankfully.) The rest of the shop was clean, quiet, and very relaxing — which is exactly what you need in a hair salon, especially after a half hour of hiking through the rain to get there.

She did give me a great haircut in the end, and it was such a relief to me to be able to speak to her in English, to chat away as I normally would with a hairdresser instead of sitting there in uncomfortable silence and making moronic observations about the weather. When speaking to me in English, she was very British, calm and coolly reserved, but as soon as the phone rang or her neighbor came by, she switched into an animated, affectionate Portuguese. I loved seeing the transition back and forth between the two.

A pleasant hour or so later, looking much less like David Bowie and not at all like a nonfat mushroom, I set out into the world again. To my relief, it had stopped raining, but I still decided to try another metro stop, which was on a different line but much closer. This time I didn’t trust my map, and instead had Gabe walk me through the streets on Google Earth, as I didn’t want to be caught out on another highway overpass.

After a short walk, I again found my nemesis directly in front of me: the train tracks. This time I was grateful to see them though, as I could also see the station they terminated in — which I knew was the metro station I was looking for.

That did not mean I found said metro station easily, however. The sign for the metro took me up into the train station itself, across the platform, then down some stairs, more stairs, an escalator, and through a tunnel before I finally found the Metro entrance. Good Lord! I jumped onto the train with great relief, exhausted from all the solo navigation and exploration I’d done that afternoon. I am so used to having Gabe with me for these expeditions, and hadn’t realized how rarely I go further afield by myself.

But I made it, and got a great haircut for a great price. Yes, it took me nearly three hours from the time I left our flat til the time I met up with Gabe at the university to go grocery shopping, but hey. It was another adventure in hairdressing, only this time it was physical, not linguistic.

Will I ever have an unexciting haircut here? I doubt it.