Robert Garcia was poised for a long corporate career ahead of him. He had a promising job in training—handling new hires in call centers, managing trainers, and working with US-based clients.
But when a heartbreak led to a series of more frustrations, Garcia felt desperate. This desperation led him to a life changing decision. “I moved from Manila to Camiguin on June 1, 2017,” he recalls.
A desperate move for change
“I would not call it ‘inspiration’ but more like a desperate move for change. It was a combination of wanting a change in my environment after a very bad breakup.”
Garcia, who also handled a couple of family businesses, shares that he initially wanted to leave the country, “I was on Facebook messaging everyone I knew who was not in the Philippines looking for jobs abroad, cities as well. Macau, Singapore, and even thinking about moving to Las Vegas where my mom and brothers are.”
While in a frantic search for a place to move, Garcia stumbled upon an old friend who at that time started Kurma Freedive Camiguin, a small dive shop with a restaurant and accommodation.
“I asked what life was like and if I could work for them. After a few chats, I decided I would try it out for a few months, live a simpler life with less income, but maybe just a break also.”
Using the money he made by selling his car and condo unit, he booked a flight, relocated, and never looked back.
A complete lifestyle reset
Garcia found himself back at square one when he arrived on the island. “I started as a waiter (at Kurma). It was a very busy time, learning new skills, eventually being tasked to manage the restaurant and the bookings at the resort.”
Being near the sea eventually got him to try freediving with which he fell in love. “I realized I could teach freediving by becoming an instructor. It was the perfect combination of my previous skills plus newly gained ones.” Freediving courses at Kurma start at Php8500.
Living in Camiguin has benefited the Level 3 freediving instructor both physically and mentally. “From the fresh air to the fresh food—I lost about 40 pounds within the first couple of months,” Garcia recounts. Being amid nature also inspired him to lead a more active lifestyle, allowing him to strike a balance in life.
Garcia was able to take better care of his mental health after he relocated. “Being surrounded by nature made me feel more attached to life, if that makes sense. Everything is more affordable,” he admits.
He cautions, however, that island life is not for everyone. “I’ve met people who tried to slow down but seemed to be missing the hustle and bustle of the city. If you want to try it, don’t rush into it, see if it is something you can really get into. It’s a complete change in lifestyle,” he advises.
Garcia could only talk about Camiguin, nicknamed the “Island Born of Fire” for its many volcanoes, with so much fondness.
“Camiguin is already ‘developing’ but still has a lot of nature all around. From the deep waters with diverse dive sites, to the volcanoes and mountains. I am biased to freediving but any diving or snorkeling is good. Climb the mountains, go to the hidden springs and waterfalls.”
You won’t run out of things to do on the island if you’re fond of the great outdoors—from trekking Mt. Hibok-hibok to soaking in its hot, cold, and soda springs, from sunbathing on White Island to snorkeling in Mantigue.
With Camiguin slowly becoming a melting pot of cultures with expats and urban-dwellers calling the island home and setting up restaurants and cafés, the once-sleepy island has become an exciting place for foodies. “Eat everywhere! Food is amazing, so many options from so many passionate cooks with the freshest of ingredients,” the aspiring chef says.
Among Camiguin’s best known restaurants are La Dolce Vita and Sapore Ristorante Italiano if you’re craving pizza and pasta, Guerrera if you’re up for some Asian street food, and Pedro’s if you want a taste of authentic Camiguinon cuisine. Kurma is known for their healthy soul food, especially their wide variety of omelettes and German sausages.
Garcia adds, “If you want to reconnect with your roots, meet genuinely happy and kind people, get a real break and relax, Camiguin is the place to be.”
Life lessons on the Island Born of Fire
The shift from a high flying and stressful corporate career to a simpler and more carefree lifestyle in Camiguin made him realize that life is not about what you have but how you live it.
“The people around you, how you treat them, and how we need to understand that the world is much much bigger than we think. Seeing how ‘simple’ life can be, showed me how complicated we make our lives and pretend like we understand. No one knows how to live life the ‘right’ way,” he says.
He also came to the realization that we are but a speck of dust in the world. “(I realized) how unimportant and irrelevant we are as individuals, we need to understand that we are part of life, not the center of it.”
If he hadn’t made the move, Garcia thinks that he would have remained depressed and unhealthy with everything that happened to him in the last couple of years.
He still goes to Manila every now and then to visit his dad. “I like going back for short periods of time to visit him. We play golf together, drive nice cars, dress up, meet old friends, but not for good. I think I will be in Camiguin for the rest of my life.”
Garcia arrived in Camiguin with a broken heart. Almost five years later, he is still on the island with a heart that is not only healed but is bursting with love for life, nature, and oneself.
All tourist destinations in Camiguin have health and safety protocols in place to protect locals and visitors alike. Everyone is expected to comply by wearing face masks, regularly washing their hands, and practicing physical distancing.
To check out up-to-date information regarding local destinations that are open and the safety protocols and requirements needed for each location, you may visit www.philippines.travel/safetrip or download the Travel Philippines app at app.philippines.travel or the Google Playstore.