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Spanish Guy Leaves Madrid, Finds Happiness in the Island Born of Fire

Camiguin

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Christa De La Cruz | Nov 06, 2015

What if today is your last day?

It took the death of a very close friend for one Fermín Álvarez to reflect about his life. "I thought that it would not be at all significant if I die the next day," he noted on Hibok Venture, an online platform documenting his personal project and the result of a decision to leave everything behind and start a new adventure. 

Born in Madrid, Spain, Fermín dreamt of becoming an advertising creative as soon as he finished secondary school. He eventually found himself working in a big advertising agency, which didn't really translate to what he had in mind. He left the job and started traveling around Europe at 21. When he returned home, he founded Manifesto, a group of 10 young individuals whose main goal was to create projects towards applying interdisciplinary creativity. Four years later, he co-founded Social Noise, a digital marketing agency that grew into having 150 employees and offices in Madrid, Milan, London, and Mexico City.

This life is what Fermín left behind. Along with it are the commodities such as a big car and a big apartment and expensive routines such as traveling and dining in restaurants everyday in exchange for a "life by the volcano."

 

"For most of my friends, family, and professional colleagues, it was difficult to understand why I was leaving everything to go to live in a small island in the Philippines. The website Hibok Venture is basically an answer for all of them. And also, it's a kind of inspirational message to all those people tired of their lives and routines to demonstrate that is possible to really break from your reality and start something new.

In the page, I was talking about 12 projects I wanted to do in Camiguin. I've done most of them. And there are so many others that have evolved. But, in general, I'm pretty happy because I've almost accomplished everything I purposed myself two years ago."

It was his friend Ted and some PhD biologists living in Madrid from Manila who brought Fermín to the Philippines for the first time. He discovered Camiguin and instantly fell in love with the island.

Camiguin is politically part of the Northern Mindanao Region despite its proximity to Bohol and location in the Bohol Sea. Its name is derived from the native word "kamagong," a species of ebony tree that thrives in Surigao del Norte, the region from which the first settlers of Camiguin came. Topographically, much of the pearl-shaped island was formed through volcanic eruptions and earthquakes caused by its volcanoes and volcanic domes. Thus the name, "Island Born of Fire." 

A view of Camiguin from White Island

 

"The volcanoes, the pristine beaches, the lush forest, the cold and hot springs, countless waterfalls, amazing marine life and people like no other. Camiguin is a really unique place. Maybe it doesn't have a breathtaking natural moments like other more famous islands at first sight. But when you explore a bit the island is almost impossible not to be marveled about its nature and peace."    

His journey to cross the world and live in the Philippines' second smallest island province started on December 29, 2013. He just turned 30 and he decided that it was time to "dedicate all his strength and talent to develop a project that will make him grow as a person and make the world a better place to live."

"When I moved to Camiguin, I've been living with a humble Filipino family for 10 months (during the construction of my house). My room was the smallest place I've ever slept, plywood walls, no mattress. There was not even a space for my big 27'' iMac in the room. The bathroom without shower. Just hollow blocks and one faucet. Or to prepare always the dinner with fire in the garden everyday. 

After two weeks in there I decided to stay for long time, because that Filipino family took me as part of the family from the early beginning. For me everything was so challenging at the beginning. I was living as a truly rural Filipino and it was one of the most amazing and most inspiring experiences I have ever had. During that time I felt in love with the Filipino culture and their endless hospitality."

Fermín was able to buy a one-hectare land on one of the slopes of Camiguin's main active volcano called Mt. Hibok-Hibok. It was where he built his home he now calls the Volcano House. Much like the Filipino family's hospitality he received when he first got in the island, the Spanish man has also opened his doors to guests of the islands through a website listing.

Volcano House

 

Aside from attending to his small rental, he is now focused on his foundation, Kilaha, which he created with a bunch of friends in the island. Kilaha brings together members and friends from different backgrounds, cultures, and generations with the purpose of developing different projects for the preservation and promotion of Camiguin.

"Right now the biggest project we are developing is a stargazing park on the top of the active volcano of the island. It's the first stargazing park in the world surrounded by volcanoes. 

The project is called Camiguin Nightscapes. The night sky in Camiguin is something totally unique. Imagine thousand of stars, the Milky Way as clear as you can imagine, and all with the perfect match of the profile of the surrounding volcanoes. 

We are educating all the kids in the province in astronomy, stargazing, climate change, and disaster risk mitigation. And we are helping the province with an ecotourism new hotspot for the tourist."

The geological activities started by Mt. Hibok-Hibok and the other three stratovolcanoes gave birth to the island's many destinations. 

"For me the best experience in the island is to hike the volcano. You can climb it in one day. And swim in the crater lake. Even you can stay for one night inside of the crater and sleep with a tent. The environment there is otherworldly. Rare plants and trees everywhere, huge eagles flying all the time over your head, amazing night skies and feel the sound of nature, without interruptions.

Also, rent a motorbike and go around the island is an amazing experience. The best way to discover the island is going by yourself discovering the secrets and beauty of every corner of this magical island.

And we can't never forget about the two small island of Camiguin province: White Island, a sand bar with a magnificent scenery of the mountains and perfect for selfies, and Mantigue, a little jewel 15 minutes from the coast and has the best fish sanctuary you can imagine."

White Island

 

Katibawasan Falls

Before he ended up in the Philippines, Fermín was already traveling around Southeast Asia every summer. But it was in this archipelago where he found his home.

"I've been in so many places [in the Philippines]! Coron is one of my favorites. But everybody knows Palawan is a paradise. So if I have to chose less crowed destinations for me The region of Camarines Sur has a lot of charm. Caramoan, Legazpi and Donsol are major destinations for me.

The place surprise me more is in North Mindanao. Bucas Grande and the island of Socorro, is one of the most beautiful places I've visited here, with so many surprises: beaches, caves, lakes. But overall really virgin nature and untouched spots."

Why choose Philippines?

Fermín said: "I think I've made my point already why I've choose the Philippines to live... But if I have to tell someone why; because it's so difficult in this world to find a place with so many beautiful places with a culture and people so unique and friendly."

 

Live as if today is your last day...and the first day of the rest of your life. And that was what Fermín Álvarez has been doing since.

 

Take a look at Camiguin through Fermin's eyes:

 

(All photos courtesy of Fermín Álvarez.)


Where on Earth is Camiguin?

How To Get There
  • From Cebu: Ferry from Pier 8 (Cebu City).
  • From Cagayan de Oro
    • Fast craft from Macabalan Port (CDO) to Benoni Wharf (Camiguin).
    • Ferry from Balingoan Port (CDO) to Benoni Wharf (Camiguin).
  • From Bohol:
    • Ferry from Jagna (Bohol) to Balbagon Port (Camiguin).
    • Fast craft from Jagna (Bohol) to Benoni Port (Camiguin).
 Experience More of Camiguin:
1) How to Tour the Philippines' Second Smallest Island Province: Two Days in Camiguin

2) Camiguin's Enigmata Treehouse: What It's Like to Stay in an Eagle's Nest

 

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