One year without a haircut and a paycheck.

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My Friend snapped a candid photo of me looking out my window in Salvador. Somewhere between contemplating life and the endless tasks, I looked  at the picture and realized I needed a haircut.  And realized the year I’ve had had without a haircut.

Somewhere in-between  of doing the endless tasks, I woke up today thinking about financials and adult life. My birthday is due, I will turn 27 and will go from the mid-twenties to the late twenties with a simple change in number.  It will also mark  one year since  I last had a  paycheck. One year since I last for a haircut. One year without a boss.   A year with more 6000km traveled  by foot, by overnight buses, hitchhiking, and planes and countless moments to be added to this book called life.   A year that brought me to live in a new country and start my life  from scratch.

Everything changed with a phone call and this is how the year of  no-plan was catapulted and how this story  was forced to begin

I was on my way to the beach with my parents who had flown to Ecuador to spend their vacation  in Ecuador which coincided  with my upcoming birthday. It was the first time in four years we able to be together on my birthday.  We were on our way driving from  Quito  to Manabi, to the Pacific Coast of Ecuador following my tradition of escaping to the beach to receive my birthday.  Short of a few miles from getting to our hotel,  I saw I had a missed  from a telephone number with the area code 312. It’s   Chicago. Who would  take the effort to do an international call  to me who weren’t my parents? Instincts kicked in.  I knew it was work.

The phone rang again. I asked my dad to pull over so I can answer.

It was the CEO of the company  I was working for remotely.  No one from work had every called me on my cell phone. I knew immediately it was bad news. The company had lost a major account. And from one day to another my  dream life changed.  I had the perfect situation. I was working remotely for an American company  living in Ecuador.  Every dream of a Latin American: to be able to live in Latin America while having a U.S income.  And now I was left to decide about my course in life. Stay in Ecuador making bare minimum or go chase my dream

 My first reaction after receiving the news  that I  was just  laid off- relief.

The first thing that surfaced into my head was “now I can go to Brazil without worrying about housing. ”   I  already  had applied for temporary residency and had plans to move to Brazil with my job since I was working remotely and could work from any part of the world. I had started looking for housing in Rio, a city which I visited back in 2013 and fell head over heels with. But Rio is expensive. And I was worried about finding a decent apartment where I could work from home.

But now I had no job.  No paycheck. So I didn’t need a nice,quiet, apartment. ( how liberating this feeling can be!) I could start by traveling and working in hostels and the chance to travel to the Northeast where I hadn’t had the chance to know on my last trip to Brazil. My  apartment would be Brazil, in general.

Moments of feeling liberated and relief, and moments of despair and confusion kicked in. What now?!

Grateful  that my parents were there who comforted me. ” You will find something better” And the cosmo-reader that I am, I took it as a sign.  The new years resolution of that year I had on the list to  find a  fulfilling career.  I had applied already for Mercosul Visa for  residency in Brazil and the coincidence that I had my parents in town, on our way to the beach, reinforced this was a door of opportunity.  I didn’t have the guts to quit a good-paying job that afforded me with so much comfort, I needed this to make drastic measures  for  my life for  I was going on a path of being complacent with life. It would’ve been pushed to next years resolution.

Jobless. No lease. No attachments. I was free to roam.

Funny thing was, I had made a mental list of things  I still had pending to see in Ecuador. On the list: Amazon, Vilcabamba.

I had been invited to join a group of friends to go deep into a remote village in the Amazon to co-live with Waorani Indigenous tribe. This was to take place in May. I showed interested but resisted on confirming knowing I would be unable to venture to a non-wifi zone with work commitments.

Jobless. No lease. No attachments. I was free to roam.

Just a few weeks after returning to Quito after my birthday and layoff, I was packing to venture deep into the amazon.

That was my first month.

Then a further prove of serenditpity.

My aunt sent me a message. She asked, ” what are you doing in June?”

I replied, ” I think I might be on my way to Brazil.”

To which she added, I will be in Ecuador. Remember who changed your diapers”

It was her first time in over two decades she was visiting Ecuador. I had to be there for this monumental journey.

This was June.

Add more to the cosmos.

My brother was due to visit end of July to August. It was the first time in about 7 or 8 years the three siblings were in the same city at the same time.

This was July/august.


And so I ended up leaving Ecuador  after  having been  there for  three years. I left with  Two backpacks and two passports. One Passport was for Plan A: California, the other passport for  Plan B :Brazil.





Fitting everything I need into two backpacks. Last night in Quito.


I ended up with Plan B. I ended up moving to  Brazil. No round trip ticket. Not even a direct light. Just A lot of buses, a bit of hitchhiking, and finally connect flights from Iguazu to Salvador, Bahia.

I left again ( this time Ecuador, First time Chicago)  and started over once again. But now in Brazil.



Original route: Quito- Uyuni. Flight Lima to Califoria. Actual route: Quito- Uyuni- Salta- Cafayate- Salvador, Bahia- Recife- Jericoacoara-Salvador  (end point). 

the original planned route: Quito-Uyuni. Then flight to California from Lima.  But then I got re-routed…


This time to a country where I didn’t know the language, and didn’t know anyone, and didn’t have a job waiting . I moved to  a country experiencing one its worst  economic recessions and to make the matter worse I found my muse which is  a city far behind economically than Brazil’s leading cities. Salvador isn’t the prime expat target nor isn’t a business central. No major headquarters are here. Unemployment is in the double-digits.


But it the musical capital of the world. A cultural mecca. And this is what I live off. But given the lack of infrastructure and opportunities here,  you will always have moments asking yourself ” what the fuck am I doing here?” But like love, you can’t choose who you end up falling in love with.


Now Im in my  fifth  apartment in the last three years. This is not including the months I lived with a host family, friend’s family in Barcelona, lived in  hostels in Jericoacoara and Pelourinho as a workexchage volunteer,  not including  Couchsurfing,  and the months I spent living with my grandma, the months  I spent taking care of my mom in Chicago,  and probably  the  30+ hostels I’ve stayed in  backpacking around. Get the picture?  Me in an apartment. A room to myself! this is NEW again for me.


But  among all the worry of bills and life choices,  it has been one of my most creative weeks I’ve had. I started promoting my project Samba Wallet and started planning my vocational project.

It’s been an amazing three years of being a nomad. And now I want to start something of my own.  And figure out where I want to settle.   I want to unpack my backpack and fold my cloths and leave it a closet long enough that my cloths will have that smell of home. I think I want back to normal life or at least come into terms with my multiple hometown loves that is Chicago, Quito , and Brazil.

I began writing my manifesto (again).  And it’s quite more holistic than the first one I wrote. I guess it’s a sign of my personal growth these past years, especially this past year.

I wrote my first one while feeling inspired after having an encounter with an Argentine  solo backpacker chick in Barcelona who had been volunteering in Romania. Somewhere between free drinks of Fernet, talking about politics, and ill-fated love,  I went to (one of the many trips that night )  to the bathroom  . Some of lines of the manifesto were written in the wall of this bathroom in this bar somewhere in the narrow streets of Bairro Gotico . I was very much inspired by Vonnegut’s critique of how time is portrayed in literature and how we are receptive to that in our real lives.




Life and time is not like that ( in my perspective). And this is why he is my favorite author. And why ( one of the many reasons)  I have  a tattoo of a spiral  ( spiral represents that time is not linear, etc .)

So my first manifesto  theme was something  like : ”  I want my life to read like a good book. A book worth reading.  Even if the ending isn’t conclusive, it was worth reading, worth living, worth experiencing the moment.”

It  was also  also inspired by a line from Jorge Drexler song “ amar la trama mas que el desenlace”  ( love the plot more than the outcome) .

That was  back in August 2013.   I was still in the romantic phase with traveling.

But forward some years and it’s now 2016. I’m living in Brazil.  And after spending almost half this year living in hostels, I have been more critical about being a “traveler”. And the existential crisis has ensued.  On Monday,    I wrote my second manifesto. And what is to be the mission statement of my long-term vocational project inspired by this dilemma of “traveling.”

By 6am today  I was already awake.  This isn’t  always voluntary: this early-morning ritual, but I have windows that face directly to  my bed and sheer curtains. The full force of  the Baiano sun is my wake- up kiss, like it or not.

I woke up tired, even though I went to sleep pretty early ( before 2am). I felt tired from the steep hills, carrying my bag,  filled with my merchandise , English lesson papers, and flyers to be hanged around Salvador for English Classes ( because its the only thing that pays in Salvador).

I have  to start from scratch.  Everything I need , I need to look up, research, learn and then do. And then mingle between languages and countries.  I’ve done that in my personal life, moving to Ecuador, moving to Brazil. But now, I want to do so professionally.

I guess this is the difference of when I first started traveling in my early 20’s to now where I am entering my late-twenties.  One of my best friends is expecting her first-born in the upcoming month. I am not ready for children, but I want to create something of my own and be able to contribute in some positive form.   I guess it’s the stage in life.  Or I’m just tired of traveling around.

The first thing I should’ve been doing when I woke up was to research  trademarking. But the restless nomad in me instead was on Workaway looking up work exchanges in California. My cloths are freshly folded in my closet… and I’m browsing online  for the next escape.

I miss my family.  And this seemed like a close compromise.  I would be in the same country as my parents if I were to go to California. And, again, back to first-world infrastructure.

I’ve been officially one week and one day in my new apartment. A miracle of an apartment. Ocean-view. My own room just for myself.  And the rent way less than the rooms I’ve found. I’m paying what my friends are paying close to Pelourinho, which Brazilians here consider “dangerous neighborhood” and somehow have ended up living in Salvador’s chic neighborhood for the price of living in the “‘hood.”

I just got lucky with finding my room. I’d still be in Pelourinho hat I not found the room for so cheap.

So,  overwhelmed with the geographical posibilites, starting a business, and existential crisis, I took a break to look out the window. It’s my way of coping. ( like a cat or old lady looking out the window).

I look out my window and starred  at the  nice pool with clear, aqua water, and a skyrise condominium next to it. I’ve never seen anyone swim in this  big pool the entire week I’ve been here.  I look into the windows of the fancy, modern apartments and  inside I see Flat-screen tvs. Hammocks, contemporary clean furniture.

Just days prior,  I  was looking out  through the window of my room, a room of bunk beds shared with other work exchange volunteers at the hostel,  I would see into the window of the colonial building in front of our hostel building.  There was always the man outside the window. Without a shirt. Screaming at people on the street.  You can see hammocks and wires behind him. And unfurnished space.  And you can tell  his hammock is his bed. He works on the street of where he lives. He directs “traffic” ( aka he helps people park cars and gets “tips” for doing that”.)  He is not the owner of the building he lives in. It’s an empty colonial building like the  many that exist in the neighborhood and where squatters have transformed into their homes.

Not like the hammocks of those who now live in front of me, in the high-rise condominium with security guards. The hammocks are there for them to relax. They have a furnished room with a nice big bed and covers and a/c, I’m sure.

What do they do to live like that?   In Salvador?!  There’s  no company headquarters that are based here, unemployment is in the double digits, and the salary is among the lowest in Brazil.

Last night, I was in a community housing or as gringos call it, a ” favela” located close by of where I used live by when I was living in the hostel.  Pelourinho is  the neighborhood of many stories and filled with many characters. But has dire social issues.  And many paradoxes.  Gringos and crackheads. Struggling families squatting in run-down building next to luxury boutique hotels.  But carnaval is over, its low-season, and its charm seems to be fading away.

Now I’m in tree-lined street. I can walk with my bookbag… and even with my sunglasses on  without getting robbed!

But now  I walk along without seeing the familiar faces, and the hugs of unplanned encounters  on the street.  On the other side, I have the tranquility and time to work on my own stuff. I have traded in passion for tranquility.

My current project is that now  I want to take my “lemonade stand” of Samba Wallet  and turn it into a start-up. I started with this project back in Jericoacoara. I  started with a few wallets selling it to guests at the hostel. And it’s helped me have pocket money for my drinks. Then in Salvador, I put more effort, took sewing classes, and started with a flyer.  And sold it to fellow backpackers at the hostels I was working at and came across people who met someone who had bought my wallet and referred to me as  “wallet lady.”   Since then  I haven’t needed to take out  money  with thanks to this little “lemonade stand” venture.

This “wallet lady” was once a Project Manager. And never had to worry about rent.

The last time I clocked in for” work”  as Project Manager was April 17th, 2015.   What I made in an hour back in project manager job is probably what I would make in more than a week here.

I make wayyyy less now. And , yet, have never worked so hard.  So a year is now coming to a close, and I want to make something of  this project.

No office. No boss.

I took a break to think of where I needed to start.  On my to-do list:

get a website. learn HOW to do a website. sign up for free class to do that. do trademark. Learn HOW to do that. Look for new suppliers for zippers. Advertising for free strategies . (Wish I had a camera or at least an iphone). Wait… That costs a years of rent in Salvador! Sign up for sewing event.  ( Why my credit card doesn’t work here so sign up!! ?)  Look up the contact from the co-working International  Women’s  Day event. Prepare Class to get money to be able to pay for rent.  Where do I Print for cheap? Respond to emails. Translate the  email to PORTUGUESE. Copy and paste accent marks cuz my keyboard isn’t in portuguese.

and somewhere there i forgot . Hey,  get a haircut! It’s been a year.


When I looked at the picture my friend took, I realized I really do need a hair cut.  This year of not having a hair-cut passed by quickly.   Didn’t realize how long my hair had grown, and the all variations of colors my hair has, a mix of dye due to the  sun and ocean.

To cut my hair, is like cutting that away.  My hair has collected a lot of memories. It is not straight and perfect. It’s not one-color.

It has had a lot of sun.

A lot of adventure. Its been through a lot. Dirt, sand, ocean, city smog



About Michelle Estefanía Cruz

I’m Chicago-Raised, Quito-Born. Petite Cumbiera with Samba Soul currently in Brazil. Una Viajera who writes in Spanglish cuz my mind is split between both hemispheres and hyphens. @funkysudaka
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