The escapaders stayed at restored houses at Las Casas de Acuzar in Bataan.
A winter escapade
Neil Jayson Servallos (The Philippine Star) - January 19, 2020 - 12:00am

More than 100 Filipinos residing in Canada hoping to escape the harsh winter season were greeted by ashfall brought by the eruption of the Taal Volcano. But that did not stop them from partici­pating in the 7th annual winter super-vacation in the Motherland.

Winter Escapade 7 started last Jan. 15, while high alert was still in effect days af­ter Taal Volcano in Batangas spewed ash and rock. While there were a few participants whose flights for the Winter Escapade were cancelled due to the ashfall and those who opted not to proceed, about 120 participants still con­verged at the Manila Hotel to kick off the tour.

“If you ask me, we had a couple of tourists who did not proceed due to fears, but oth­erwise, everyone’s gung-ho to be here and they have this YOLO (you only live once) attitude,” said Jose Clemente III, president of Rajah Tours, the escapade’s organizer.

In fact, for couple Rufa and Dom Doria, who had been living in Alberta for more than a decade, the alternative for giving up the eight-day tour was a mass of freezing air that drops the temperature in certain parts of Canada to a bitter -30 degrees – otherwise known as a polar vortex.

At this time of year, much of Western Canada continues to face days of dangerously cold temperatures.

“Our enthusiasm was not dampened by the ashfall, knowing the situation of our city back in Canada. For the next two weeks, it will be bit­terly cold. Compared to the situation there, the situation here is nothing,” Dom said.

Luxury tour buses ferried the Winter Escapaders to the first event in Rizal Park, for a wreath-laying ceremony led by Philippine Ambassador to Canada Petronila Garcia at the Rizal monument.

The rite honoring the na­tional hero has been a staple of the tour, but for Filipino- Canadian first-timers, being emotional was something one could not avoid.

“I couldn’t help but feel emotional when patriotic music played, including the National Anthem. It’s an ex­perience I would not trade for anything,” Dom recounted.

After the rites, the partici­pants were brought to Ilus­trado in Intramuros for lunch, after which they went on their choice of tour – a tour of Ma­nila’s finest museums, shop­ping tour at the famous tiang­ge in the Greenhills Shopping Center in San Juan and a walking tour of Binondo, the world’s oldest Chinatown.

History, culture and beaches

In the succeeding days, the participants were brought to historically-rich Bataan, the pristine Clark Freeport Zone in Pampanga and the pictur­esque Boracay Island.

The choice of destinations, according to Clemente – who is also president of the Tour­ism Congress of the Philip­pines – was brought about by the Philippine embassy in Canada’s desire for Filipinos to rekindle their sense of na­tionalism.

“We wanted them to have a mix of the past, present and future of the Philippines. A mix of culture, history and beach, as well,” said Clemente.

The tour of Manila and Boracay, in a sense, served as a showcase of how “positive governance” has improved the destinations, according to Clemente, who cited Mayor Isko Moreno’s efforts to re­store the beauty of the capital city and Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat’s strong stance on sustainable tourism and the rehabilitation of several tourist sites all over the country.

In Bataan, the escapad­ers visited Mt. Samat, one of the most important shrines built to remember the brav­ery and sacrifices of Filipino and American soldiers who fought during World War II. They will be staying at Las Casas de Acuzar in Bagac, a 400-hectare resort featur­ing restored Spanish-Filipino houses. From there they will proceed to the Clark Freeport Zone, where the closing rites and some of the events of the 30th SEA Games were held last month. In Clark, they will be treated to Kapampangan delicacies at a dinner hosted by the Bases Conversion and Development Authority at the ASEAN Convention Center.

In the remaining days of the tour, the participants will be staying in Boracay, a first since the much-publicized closure and rehabilitation of the island.

The Winter Escapade, aside from promoting tourism, seeks to inspire Filipinos in Canada who already have dual citizen­ship to reawaken their sense of nationalism that they might have lost when they left the Philippines, according to Am­bassador Garcia.

The Filipino community in Canada is one of the fast­est growing, with more than a million Filipinos living there, making the Philippines the leading source of immigrants, which has driven a positive impact on the North Ameri­can country.

“We lose them, but we would like to continue main­taining in them their ties to the Philippines and this is one of the instruments we use to maintain our relations,” Gar­cia told The STAR.

Latest tourist data culled by the Department of Tourism (DOT) showed Canada was among the leading countries in terms of the number of visi­tors to the country.

The growth in number of visitors from Canada is boost­ed by direct flights to and from Manila to Vancouver and Toronto by the country’s flag carrier Philippine Air­lines. These fights, especially to Vancouver, are usually ful­ly booked.

The Philippines’ tourism products – beaches, history, culture, food and people – are an easy sell to Canada, a rea­son why more Canadians are visiting the country.

“Every year, we have 60 to 65 percent of repeaters of the Winter Escapade. Since they keep coming back, they keep discovering places and they entice their friends, which creates a multiplier effect. That, in effect, is contributing to tourism,” Clemente said.

Even the consul general of Poland based in Calgary was one of the escapaders this year. Having a good time, he bared that he plans on promoting the Winter Escapade to the Polish community in Calgary. This, in turn, would infuse a new seg­ment into the tour.

Garcia shared that the an­nual tour would continue, both in existence and in evolv­ing, with the embassy’s eyes set on enticing the younger generation of Filipinos in Canada to visit the Mother­land.

The Philippine embassy in Canada is strategizing on fo­cusing on areas where there are large numbers of Filipinos like in Toronto, where nearly 400,000 Filipino-Canadians reside.

“The next generation of Fil­ipinos are very talented, but they don’t know about their hometown, the opportunities for them to help in nation-building,” said Garcia. – With Helen Flores



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