Living off the grid -How quitting the city changed my life

October 25, 2015
Photo by Francisco Guererro


When I first moved from the small city of Salzburg in Austria to Manila back in 2007, I was excited and full of hopeful anticipation as any rural 22-year-old longing for the urban experience could be.
Back in Salzburg my life seemed to have come to a halt. Not that it wasn’t treating me any good there. In fact things were running perhaps just a bit too smooth. I had a well-paying and creative job, working in the costume department for the Salzburg Festival Opera House. I had great friends, numerous family bonds, a cozy home, free health insurance, and social security.  I didn’t even need a car in a small city where public transport was high standard, fossil fuel-free, cheap, and always on time. Life there was safe, consistent, and predictable.


Sure enough I would find satisfactory unpredictability in a city with twice as many inhabitants as my entire home country. I didn’t mind the Manila traffic, the overpopulation, and the pollution at that time. To the contrary, I found it all quite stimulating and rather refreshing. And the oddly comforting sensation of anonymity and being part of an enormous crowd felt like a very welcome invitation to reinvent myself in the capital of my mother’s country.

I somehow got into modelling as a full time occupation. It seemed wherever I’d go, whether the mall, the gym, restaurants, or cafés, someone would hand me their business card with a model or casting agency contact. This wasn’t exactly what I came here to do, but it was fun work and the TVC jobs were quite lucrative.

Just a couple of years into the peak of my modelling career, however, I burnt out from the lifestyle. The initial enthusiasm about finding an identity as a model, something I might have secretly dreamed of as a little girl, quickly faded. It was replaced with the repetitive routine of going through heavy traffic to get to shabby casting locations, spending hours waiting backstage on TVC sets, socializing and acting friendly with people I didn’t feel a genuine connection with, and working out like a maniac to maintain a “trendy-slim” physique.

At that time I had a very strange relationship with my body. I would see it as something I depended on for work and I would often despise it when comparing it to those of other girls in the industry. Many of them seemed to be genetic freaks, but I really had to work hard to get to where I wanted to be. I was always the last girl to leave the gym at night. I would limit my food intake to the minimum. I lived off Diet Coke and black coffee, smoked like a chimney, and went through periods of jittery confusion caused by methamphetamine-like diet pills and occasional use of recreational narcotics. I was also struggling with subtle feelings of guilt and inauthenticity. So I took a step back and distanced myself from the industry to regain perspective. I basically grabbed the first non-modelling job opportunity that I came across at a shoot and took an office job all the way in the province of Bicol for several months. Although I wasn’t getting much satisfaction in my new nine-to-five, I did enjoy the days off which I mostly invested in outdoor activities like running, wakeboarding, and yoga for beginners.

I let go of my model-diet-plan. I was so starved from the calorie-restrictive modeling lifestyle, so for the first time in years I basically ate anything I craved.

I gained weight until I couldn’t stand looking at myself and then started crash dieting again. What was even worse than the body weight fluctuations was the emotional rollercoaster that came with them. As an ex-model I had the bad habit of mainly deriving my sense of self worth from my physical appearance. Filipinos are very uncensored when it comes to commenting on a person’s body weight. My moods were directly linked to the number on the scales.


Around the time I quit the office job, I also shifted from a pescatarian to a lacto-ovo vegetarian diet without any conscious reason behind it.  I moved back to Manila and soon after got together with my partner Corey.

Corey was definitely a driving force in making me go vegan and eventually high raw-vegan. He had numerous nutrition and environmental books in his possession, one of which was Eat to Live by Dr. Joel Fuhrman. I absolutely loved the science behind Dr. Fuhrman’s take on the holistic plant- based lifestyle, convincing me to quit eggs and dairy as well as processed foods and never look back!
I was pleased to see the excess pounds drop off on my new vegan diet but unfortunately due to the high intake of soy and wheat products (a common mistake among new vegans) I developed hormonal problems such as Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), adult acne, and nasty mood swings.

Corey and I were still living in Malate at that time. Looking back I understand today how the pollution along Roxas Blvd exacerbated my mood swings and also caused other strange physical problems such as the skin of my fingertips and toes to crack open and bleed from the contact with irritating pollutants on the living area surfaces.  It dawned on me that I may possibly be “allergic” to the city, a bold claim that proved quite plausible in the end.


Corey (being a passionate surfer and outdoor-sports person) suggested venturing up north in search for a new home with clean air, nearby surf, and less traffic. To both of us, Subic is the perfect “Goldilocks-formula” in terms of a Western and Southeast Asian culture—something we both identify very well with considering our heritage as half-breeds. We did not yet have a well calculated plan at that time but enthusiastically jumped strait into our new country life, unsure what to expect.

It was also at this time that my naturopathic doctor Nigel Chen introduced Corey and I to the raw food lifestyle in hope of providing us with a powerful tool to fix our remaining minor health issues. I followed his instructions, gave up the allopathic medications, and introduced a diet consisting of mainly raw fruits, vegetables, sprouted grains, seeds, nuts, seaweeds, edible grasses, and herbs. Sure enough, after just approximately six weeks of eating very high-raw I cleared up my acne and PCOS!

This is how my enthusiasm for the raw food lifestyle was sparked. I delved deep into the science of living foods and I loved the way they made me feel physically, so I went out and got certified as a health educator and raw food chef with the intention to share my knowledge and food with other people.

From here everything gradually fell into place.
We transformed the manicured ornamental garden of the previous house owner into our very own little veggie plantation. This is an ongoing process requiring a lot of experimentation, failure, and periods of successful yields. As of today, we are currently installing extended growing space on our rooftop.

Growing our own organic herbs and green leafy vegetables helps save a lot of money. When you shift to a high raw or a fully raw vegan diet, the greens become your rice/bread. And in order to meet your caloric needs, you’ll have to eat heaps of it. Living in nature with smog-free air and good soil is of course a prerequisite for growing your own organic food. Although quite time consuming, it’s a very gratifying process. Unlike my mother, I definitely do not (yet) have a legit green thumb but this is something I’m working on.

Our home’s garden is not yet as prolific as we’d like it to be but luckily we have two mango trees and three avocado trees on our property, along with several papaya trees and wild berry (duhat) shrubs. These do not fruit all year around but when they do, it’s pure joy! Not only for us but also for the neighboring monkeys from Subic’s virgin rainforest with which we reluctantly share our yield!


Choosing to leave the urban entertainments behind together with the practicality of a city job doesn’t mean one will have to completely give up all social enjoyments or the safety of a steady paycheck. Luckily, in today’s day and age there are many ways of making money from the comfort of one’s home.

As in our particular case, leaving Manila also meant having to become more creative and inventive with our means of making a living.

This is one of the reasons we continuously open our home to people from the city to offer yoga and health food weekend retreats to private groups. (Those interested may find us under “Subic Rainforest Retreat–SuperNaturalPh” on Facebook.)
I understand it involves a lot of work and impeccable consistency to achieve authentic wellness in life.

In my particular case I have to stick to my rituals each morning before going about my day. I cleanse my body via different modalities like oil pulling, tongue scraping, and drinking heaps of alkaline water in the morning.  I’ve committed to taking care of my mental hygiene with seated meditation practices, prayer, and yoga almost every day.

I know some people reading this may find my approach quite radical or rather daunting. But, the truth is, I enjoy doing those rituals and in the long run they help make life more fun with heightened body awareness, increased mental focus, and an overall more disciplined mind. When you start the morning on the right track, you’ll hardly fall off the wagon by dinner time! There has not once been an instant I ever regretted investing my mornings in meditation, exercise, yoga, or cleansing.

My afternoons are usually reserved for work. I’m lucky to be doing the type of work I enjoy such as painting and coming up with gourmet raw food creations. I am by nature a perfectionist. This trait can easily morph into neurosis (hence the mood swings) when I don’t do anything about it.

Similarly, spending time in nature is absolutely important for mental, emotional, and physical health.

Since my current main occupation is my visual art along with offering monthly raw food retreats, I need to balance a rather sedentary profession with sufficient physical activity.

Although I occasionally visit the local Crossfit Gym for its social aspect, I more frequently spend time exercising outdoors. Either I go skating, swimming, paddle boarding, or surfing with Corey and some local surfers. When the weather doesn’t allow, I opt for surf training-related plyometric exercises or yoga on our roof deck.

Surfing in particular is something my partner Corey can’t live without and for the past five years it has become a priority to me as well. It’s more than just a sport or a hobby. It really is a lifestyle since it can easily take over your life if you let it!

Although my surfing skills are still developing, I am convinced that I would have never progressed this quickly if I were still living in the city. Surfing is also currently my greatest inspiration for my visual art. There is a very primordial beauty in a peeling wave that captivates me beyond words. Thanks to surfing I started painting again, now pushing my creative limits in photorealistic acrylic art.

It’s also thanks to painting and other forms of meditation that I am no longer at the mercy of those nasty mood swings that used to plague me for years.

Alcohol, nicotine, and recreational drugs, which used to be my form of self-medication years ago, have naturally disappeared to make room for what I believe is the truer purpose of my life.

It’s safe to say that I feel in love again with life itself. Sure, not every day is smooth sailing, but most days are fluid and meaningful. Perhaps that is the reward for daring to go head and live my dreams. It appears the motivation starts to flow from within, no longer fully reliant on external factors such as earning a specific amount of money each month or finally getting your dream car, designer handbag, or whatever worldly possession it is you think you need to be temporarily happy.
Sure, a certain level of financial security is necessary for a comfortable lifestyle but if the money-making becomes the focus of living, the deeper purpose may possibly get lost.

You can reestablish the meaning of wealth and focus on acquiring more of the precious things that money can’t buy—fresh air, clean water, pure food, gorgeous sunsets, green surroundings, playful outdoor activities, loving relationships, and time to reflect, create, and self-educate while performing passion-filled work. Now that’s wealth that no human will ever have the power to take from you! (MONA LISA NEOUEBECK)