Sea spray, salt and sand is abundant. These wonderful features of the San Carlos area bring with them the need for essential services. By essential I am referring to the occasional mani pedi. Who am I kidding, these luxuries have nothing to do with living in Mexico but are simply a personal care service I appreciate having at my fingertips.
Back in Flower Mound, Texas the Nail Spa was my “go to” salon for at least 15 years. The electronic “ding dong” at the opening of the door and happy, “Hi, Laura,” greeting from Tony or Tina was often followed by, “Just fifteen minutes.” Why there was always a 15 minute wait baffled me but it was just part of the experience. When the time ticked past and the Luxury Pedicure and Gel Manicure began they were well worth the wait. The massage chair worked its magic rolling my shoulders, chopping my lower back and kneading my spine while my tootsies soaked in the warm, fizzy water filled with the scent of lavender, or green tea or whatever concoction created the fancy Margarita pedicure. The way I saw it, the longer I was glued to that kneading throne the more bang I was getting for my buck. That was the only downside of Nail Spa. The treatments were pricey. Walking out the door with twenty polished talons set me back $115. If I threw in an eyebrow wax add another $12 to the bill. However, since I was making the big bucks as a school teacher a mani pedi was a necessary expense in the “Monthly Budget according to Laura”. Plus I took into account the “special customer” holiday gift bags handed out by Tony and Tina. Those cellophane wrapped December treasures were filled with fashionable toeless socks, sample size lotions, a ballpoint pen and a few miniature chocolates. So overall I’d say with that bonus I made out pretty good over the years being a loyal customer of Nail Spa.
Once in San Carlos an occasional manicure pedicure combo became more of an actual necessity. Walks on the beach, the desert environment, the daily wearing of sandals and foot travel on cobblestone streets put extra wear and tear on my feet. I tried the DIY version and discovered quickly my skills in nail painting will never endanger the employment of any nail technician. Making my way through several spas and salons I found the hidden gem of pedicures in a little place known as Estética de Maru’s or Maru’s Beauty Shop.
To locate it simply follow the main boulevard to Boye’s Burger restaurant, take a right on Neptuno and make your way to the dusty parking area on the righthand side of the road where several signs welcome customers to the quaint building across the street that houses both the salon and Maru’s family home.
The entrance to the building is faced with beautiful ficus trees that have been trimmed into a cute little tunnel. These trees offer a secret garden spot filled with potted plants and a comfortable sitting area. On the wall next to the door a handmade tile sign assures customers they have arrived at the correct location.
The first time I entered the salon I was a bit overwhelmed by the chatter. A harmonious blend of English and Spanish voices that echoed through the small space. Women were laughing and leaning toward each other to share cell phone photos of loved ones. “Precioso, muy bonita, and extremadamente guapo,” filled the air. Several Mexican women were busy providing clients with color, cuts and styles. Others were busily polishing nails and buffing heels of customers. I felt as if I had entered a bilingual version of Steel Magnolias. Then in her big voice that sounds like a smile Maru shouted, “Hola! Entra por favor.” Within minutes I realized that half of the verbal chorus members were merely there for moral support as they cleared for me a spot on the sofa. The thought of, “15 minutes” flashed through my mind. I pulled out a book and settled into reading assuming this was the waiting area.
Glancing around I took in the bright green and yellow walls dotted with art created by locals. “Visit San Carlos” mugs adorned the shelves along with products and business cards from local stores. A statue of a Saint stood watch on the glass table near the swivel hair styling chairs. As I absorbed the space Brenda swooped in placing a towel on the floor in front of me. Roxy came next with a vibrating foot bath filled with warm water. This wasn’t the waiting area at all. This comfy brown couch was the pedicure station.
Maru then pulled out a folding chair and collapsible TV tray loaded with all of the tools needed for a nail update. Quietly reading I took in the scene. Maru continued to joyfully converse with everyone in the salon in both languages. Her full, loud laugh is contagious. She notices not only what is going on inside the salon but points out hummingbirds drinking from the feeder outside stating, “Muy bonita mi pequeña colibrí,” and “Eres bienvenido en mi casa todos los días.” Very pretty my little hummingbird and You are welcome at my house everyday. Then she stops to inform the crowd that hummingbirds love a touch of Coca-Cola in their water and swears the same birds come each year. While I’m not sure that is accurate, I truly think Maru believes so. This joyful atmosphere is accented with a soundtrack of 80’s artists including Hall & Oats, George Michael, Huey Lewis, Duran Duran, and Michael Jackson integrated with upbeat Mexican tunes. The facility alone offers a lot to process.
As far as the pedicure goes, it entailed the basics of soaking, scrubbing, trimming, exfoliating, filing, massaging, polishing and drying. The difference was the intimacy of the experience. When I say intimacy I mean the physical closeness. The Mexican culture is not known for allowing personal space. They are a hugging, close talking group of people. This carried over to the pedicure process. Once my feet soaked, Maru put a towel across her thighs and proceeded to trim my nails right there in her lap. It reminded me of the days when I painted the nails of my own two girls when they were small.
The entire pedicure consisted of me alternating each foot from the water to Maru’s knee until my toes were ready for polish. Forget the color coded wall of polishes found in the US. At Maru’s there is a plastic tub filled with half bottles of polish. Selecting a color is like digging through a rainbow. Toenails are painted carefully balancing my feet atop her knees. With the pedicure complete, it’s off to the manicure station.
The manicure itself is fairly typical but it has a distinctive personal feel. The table is off to the side away from the couches loaded with chattering females. As a result more one-on-one quiet conversation occurs. Over the course of several visits I learned a great deal about the namesake of the facility. Maru has lived in the area since she was a child and lost her parents years ago. Her siblings live nearby and their families enjoy time together. Her husband struggles with health concerns and her son fills her heart with joy. He is an aspiring musician and Maru proudly plays his music for anyone who will listen. She shared her frustrations of her teenager staying out too late, her sadness due to the loss of her nephew in a tragic accident and the excitement of an upcoming surprise party for her sister. She worries about business and medical bills but is generous with many who are less fortunate. This is witnessed by the vendors who enter to sell her agua fresca, pottery and homemade baked goods. She has an obvious rapport with each person. Maru seems to know everyone in town and people love her. Each time I leave Maru’s Beauty Shop not only have I had an interesting pedicure process but often a renewed understanding for the need of female friendship.
While a salon experience is clearly distinct in my neck of the desert its price tag is remarkable. The combo nail treatment runs $20 including tip. An eyebrow wax is $2.50 and that does include both brows. Hair treatments are available at Maru’s. A men’s cut for Mike is a mere $5.00 versus his former payment of $30. The going rate for highlights, low lights, a cut and style is about $60. With peso prices like these now more than ever bi-monthly services are not only an option but quickly becoming essential services.
August 5, 2020
Note: These observations of the salon are from pre COVID-19 notes. Maru’s is currently running at 50% occupancy by appointment only. Social distancing is expected. Masks are required for entry. Face shields and masks are worn by all employees. Employees alternate workdays to limit the number of bodies in the salon. With these necessary changes, the noise level at Maru’s has plummeted but the feelings of friendship and happiness have only continued to rise.
“When the going gets tough, the tough get a pedicure.”-anonymous