Mission Death Valley

(a Few Brave Souls)

The University of Santo Tomas High School 1980
Scholarship and General Fund Drive

Jojo Sayson's perspective
(edited by Marina V. Torres)


Another chapter has been written again in this story book made up of a wide circle of friends or a family known as the UST High School Batch 1980 Alumni Association. The objective this time is for the US- International chapter to give its share of support to the association's scholarship program purposed to provide education to two deserving children of our batchmates. This is the vision of its current leadership and its flagship project.

The Mission Impossible Team (MIT) was therefore mobilized - again, for this purpose of raising funds for humanitarian purposes, for instilling camaraderie and fanning our taste for adventure. A few brave souls responded to the call of duty - John Talabis (and wife Hanna), Ron Pasamba, Cielit Reyes-Giddy, and I. The MIT support team - Marina V. Torres, Letty DeGuia-Elgincolin, Gerald and Linda Nalagan, responded without hesitation. The team, as a whole, hoped that every single batchmate in the world could identify with us and live vicariously another spiritual adventure. We are indebted to all the prayers sent our way for safe passage in the desert, salt plains, and mountains. We are powered in our hearts by well wishes to reach the bottom of the North American continent, its lowest point at 282 ft or 85.5 m below sea level, the driest place on the planet, and an arid region where its hot temperatures can be potentially lethal - Death Valley National Park in California, U.S.A.

Tweet Vizcarra, MIT member of Half-Dome bade us farewell the night before the trek and got a surprise bon voyage call from MIT member, Chito Rabadam. God granted us favorable temperatures in the desert, a tolerable 90-95 F. The objective to plant the Philippine flag and our USTHS80 banner on the highest peak of the Sand Dunes was not as menacing as Mission Half-Dome last year. It is roughly a little over 4 miles round trip on foot but one has to walk on very fine sand across undulating terrain. Our feet sank with every step and sand made its way between our toes, forcing us to make periodic stops to clear it and hydrate ourselves. Here, heatstroke is a specter for those who do not drink enough fluids. We were prepared with the right gear that included wide-brimmed hats, walking poles, energy bars, electrolyte gels, and camelbak hydration. The pounding sun is unforgiving as there is no shade to rest under except for a few bushes yet dangerous enough as these may be hiding places for poisonous snakes escaping the heat.

Snake tracks were plentiful as noticed by all along the way. Here, you can hear each step with laboring breaths as water evaporates rapidly with each exhalation and the occasional gust of wind could easily blind with stray sand particles. We were like ants walking on little sand hills.

Reaching the highest peak of the Sand Dunes was an awesome relief. We immediately set-up all that was needed then took the famous shot of the momentous pose proudly with the Philippine flag, the yellow ribbons (idea by Leo Riingen) with the names of donors as promised. We remembered requests for different poses such as the Queen Cielit on a throne pose, the Ron "pasan-ba" pose, and our version of the Iwo Jima pose idea by Jerry Simon. There was much jubilation, laughter, and silliness but afterwards, we did what we always do. We held hands, bowed our heads, and prayed to the Almighty for thanksgiving and a blessing to all of our batchmates including those who are ill, deceased, and in need. Then there was a time to just stand in awe of the majesty of creation to let the barren but beautiful panorama and the clear blue sky sink in our minds and spirits.

The main objective was sought and the rest of the day was dedicated to short hikes after eating delicious tuna sandwiches prepared by John with sliced apples on the side. Ron had to go ahead for work as there was absolutely no phone signal from the Nevada-California border and in all of Death Valley . I was a bit concerned about our Anchorwomen, Marina and Letty who were vigilant in expecting live reporting. We truly thank them for being with us in spirit and apologize for the inconvenience. We had visited Scotty's castle, Ubehebe volcanic crater, Zabriskie point, and lastly the salt flats of Badwater basin, the geographical lowest point.

And the lessons learned from this expedition? That there are brave souls and kind souls all belonging to our old high school willing to hold each others' hands across the globe. That when you commune with nature, you find yourself and rediscover God all over again. That one has one life to live and one shot at making every moment count. That we need to be tolerant of differences and remember that all are equal in the eyes of the Creator. That we should be reminded of a child's uninhibited enthusiasm to live life to the fullest. That although we sweat, we should never sweat the irrelevant things that stress us. And that God will always take care of us. All we need to do is believe.

This sacrifice is dedicated by the MIT to Winnie Francia who returned to the everlasting valley of our Lord on the same occasion. We end our story with a quote from Psalm 23:4 - "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me." We are indeed one in spirit. God bless us all fellow Thomasians.


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