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Bacolod City, Philippines Monday, July 2, 2018
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with Matè Espina

Highlights in Toronto

Rock & Refuge

By the time this column is out, I, along with thousands of Rotarians who attended the 109th Rotary International (RI) Convention, have left Toronto. Final count of attendees were 25,246 from all over the world with 15,000 of them already pre-registered for next year’s convention in Hamburg, Germany.

The 5-day convention was packed with personalities that included Canada’s Prime Minister, the dashing and ever so charming, Justin Trudeau who was also awarded by RI for the country’s support to the eradication of polio, among the first to extend 150 million dollars for such campaign.

Many people don’t know that the fight against polio was started by Rotary and was first launched in the 80’s in the Philippines. Today, 99 percent of the world is free from polio, a debilitating disease that will leaves you with physical deformities. For a total declaration of polio-free globally, there must be no recorded case of polio in three consecutive years.

Trudeau also spoke about Canada’s priority agenda on gender equality and will be hosting this year’s women’s summit to pursue equality in all fronts. That actually disarmed the audience who gave him loud cheers because while other countries may have similar laws on equality, Canada has been aggressive in its implementation. We too have laws on that but unfortunately for us, our country’s top guy is also the top violator of disrespecting women.

Former US First Lady Laura Bush was also one of the speakers emphasizing the need for education as a tool to eradicate poverty and help in nation building. As an educator herself, Mrs. Bush recounted some experiences in her life pre-White House which made her become an advocate to strengthen education when her husband became the President.

There were other personalities, some inspiring, others not, which gave us an excuse to go somewhere and see what Toronto (by the way, they pronounced it as Tronno, haha) and Canada has to offer.

We missed the entirety of the Gay Pride March as we had to catch a ride to a dinner that was prepared for us. But we met many participants on the road dressed in colorful rainbow garbs. We saw pictures from other Rotarians who watch the parade in its entirety and there were many who marched in their birthday suits – both men and women of all ages. What made me smile though was a group of gay men in their red undies dancing in a choreographed number all over downtown Toronto.

The next afternoon, we booked a tour to the Niagara Falls, a must-see of course, which is some two hours from Toronto. Our guide and driver, Patrick, was hilarious and though we dozed off in some parts of the ride, it was breathtaking when we reached our first destination – the picturesque town called “Niagara-on-the-Lake.”

Century old houses lined up the streets and to maximize our one-hour stop, we took a carriage tour which brought us around town which can actually be covered in half an hour. We also had a short stop at the lake which also serves as a border for Canada and US with only a few meters of water separating this town from the border of New York State.

Next stop was a tour of a winery that sells “ice wine” which by the way is really delicious but also very strong. It’s a bit on the sweet side, or maybe there are other varieties too but that was what was served to us.

As the guide explained, the discovery of making the ice wine came after a very cold winter struck their vineyards. For wine makers, that is a disaster but rather than look at their months of labor go to waste, the vineyard workers picked the frozen grapes, tried to squeeze whatever juice is left and the rest is history. What makes it a bit pricey is the amount of juice you can squeeze out of frozen grapes vis-à-vis your normal grapes.

In fact, that type of wine is patented by Canada that those from other countries, and there are others, who want to produce the same have to secure permission from a board in Canada. They are so strict that other producers must have satellite imaging that can be controlled by Canada and if temperature falls short of the required one to produce ice wine, their franchise is revoked and they cannot sell it to the market.

Finally we reached Niagara Falls at around 6pm which of course feels like 3pm and boarded the Hornblower boat covered by flimsy red water coats that of course did not prevent us from getting drenched as we drove close to the edge of the majestic falls. Although one can access the falls from New York as well, the Canada side just looks better and grander.

It was worth the ride, the money and the wet shoes. We ended that day with a buffet dinner at the Sheraton overlooking the falls that were lighted up at night and it was so hard to concentrate on both the food and the view, but after that long day….the food won as we chomped on seafood, roasted beef, lamb, pasta and many more.

We had a grand time watching the fireworks as well and this was already around 10pm. When we finally boarded the coach, Patrick had an easy night navigating back to Toronto as each one was just contented to sleep off the food and the memories we had in that long but unforgettable day.*

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