Last night’s premiere episode of “Game of Stones” introduced adventure fans to the dangers faced by international gem hunter, Don Kogen in this episode titled, “Landmines.”
As the episode begins, it is 2012 at the Burma/Thai border. As they enter the compound, they are told by the guard to put down the camera. As the words on the screen advise, many of the rarest sapphires, emeralds and rubies never reach the open market, and some of the most valuable stones are often in the most dangerous places in the world. As he examined a stone, the price is $200,000. He offers the seller $150,000, and he accepts the offer, as he goes to the vehicle, he tells Fear, his security officer and childhood friend, that he thinkss the stone is a fake and hops in the car as they make their getaway.
At 13, Don Kogen was abandoned on the streets of Thailand and to survive; he traded precious stones. Now he is one of the most extreme gem hunters. He chases these precious finds, among the men he calls brothers in some of the world’s most deadliest places as they play the “Game of Stones.”
In Houston, Texas, the international headquarters of Gem Guys Inc., where last year, Don and his team traveled to over 50 countries searching for the rarest gemstones. However, to be ready at the source, they have to move at a moment’s notice. This is where Kat comes in, to handle the logistics of getting the team there quickly and cleared with all visas, passports and necessary documents to ensure their safe arrival and return.
Don and his team are in search of a Cambodian “Sunset” ruby, one of the rarest gems on earth, with no significant finds in the last twenty years. Don explains that with gold, if not found in one place, can be found in another, but gems are a different story. One specific gem could be found in a mine, and nowhere else. So he and his team travel over 9,000 miles to follow the lead. Once there he met an old friend named Jirasak. Don speaks fluent Thai because he has been trading gems on the street since he was 13. When he was 12, he dropped out of school and went to Thailand with his father, but once there, they went their separate ways. Being alone, he knew he had to make money or starve. He learned the gem business and the language to survive, but once he learned; he was hooked. He asked his friend about the sunset rubies, and he pulled out a few. To the untrained eye, they seem worthless, as they have a cloudiness, but the secret is to heat them to a certain temperature, and they sparkle like the sun, and thus quadruple their value. If he can get to the mine before other gem dealers, he can possibly make half a million dollars in a day. He borrowed his friend’s stones and promised to return them, as he told him to be very careful, not only with the stones, but as he traveled to find the mine.
Besides Fear, his security and ex-military man, his team also consisted of Gavin, an expert gemologist, Tony the broker, who not only has the money, but the balls to make deals, and Kat, who is here if they need a helicopter, airplane or escape route.
As he met with his entire team at the Baan Khun Bar in Chanthaburi, Thailand, they discussed there the gems could be found. After showing Gavin the samples from his friend, he knew that they were worth the trip. The major problem was, in the Pailin area of Cambodia, where the worst of the worst criminals are located. Until 1996, it was a stronghold of the Khmer Rouge. Riddled with land mines, it is home to criminal gangs, weapons and drug traffickers with insurmountable risks, and the U.S. Government warns Americans who travel there to exercise extreme caution.
Because a helicopter is unable to land in the jungle, they must trek through on foot. Kat takes care of the legalities and the next day; they start their journey with $200,000. If something goes wrong, they are broke, as they all pooled their capital to enter this lawless abyss. As they arrive at the border, they choose to enter without going through a border crossing, where it could be even more dangerous. They disguise their truck under several branches, as they start their journey of danger twenty miles into the Cambodian jungle. As they reach a patch of high grass, they know king cobras are awaiting their arrival. Without anti-snakebite serum, one bite and they are dead. Tony agrees to take the lead, as he makes noise, but then summons everyone to stop, as he comes upon a sign that reads, land mines. With an estimated six million unexploded mines, they are in the most dangerous area of the world, where at least five people are killed or maimed by land mines every day.
As Fear takes the lead, he warns the team to walk in his identical footsteps as he is the only one with land mine experience. He makes it through, with sixteen miles to go to the mine, what next could lie ahead? Kat calls them on the satellite phone to say that someone is attempting to get clearance to go to the mine. Don knows it is most likely, Jeffrey K, Don’s rival in the gem business. While Don prefers to buy gems from miners, Jeffrey’s company would rather buy the whole mine. Now the race is on to get to the stones before Jeffrey buys the entire mine. With little time to waste, they need a quicker route, but the river is patrolled by criminal gangs, who could steal their cache, or worse.
As they reach the banks of the river, a boat comes by. They pay the man $60 to take them to a bigger boat his brother owns. Once on the big boat, Don, with his uncanny ability to sleep in an instant, is sound asleep. However, not for long, as the captain stops the boat as other boats are circling, he tells Don and the others to hide below deck. Once the coast is clear, they disembark at a bend in the river.
When they encounter their first group of people, Don tries to speak the few words of Khmer he knows, but they are greeted by unfriendly faces and quickly leave the area. With no directions to the mine, they must travel to where they believe it should be. When they find a fruit orchard, they know they are close, because old mines were filled in and orchards were planted there. Up ahead, they spot people panning at a river bank. They manage to meet with the mine boss and show him the money bag. They must eat with the man, and if they refuse, they will disrespect him and the deal will be dead. After a meal of grasshoppers, they finally agree $150,000 for the large cache of stones, and soon thereafter, men with guns show up with no way of knowing who they are or what their intentions are, so they leave immediately.
Away from the mine, they put a call to Kat to get them a boat, so they can leave. Fortunately, in an hour, their boat arrives flying the flag of Thailand. In Don’s warehouse in Chanthaburi, he heats the stones in the delicate process to create the sunbursts, but the process is so delicate, that if not done properly, they will become worthless dust. Nobody is privy to this process, not even his own team.
A few days later, his team arrives to inspect his result. Don seems like something is wrong, but he deceived them into thinking he messed up, when, in reality, he produced gorgeous gemstones. The cost $150,000 and the result $530,000 on this episode of “Game of Stones.”
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