Millennial Adventure (part 2)

On 28 June, I had the pleasure of interviewing billionaire and travel extraordinaire – Jim Rogers and Paige Parker over an exclusive interview! Their spirit of adventure has seen them journey off the beaten path (at the turn of the Millenium) in not just one city but the world over – covering 116 countries over 6 continents, and 245,000 km – setting Jim’s 3rd Guinness World Record in the process and Paige’s maiden one!

Talking to them, I uncovered lots of stories about their inspiring Millennial Adventure which inspired the Travel and Discovery exhibition at Science Centre Singapore. Here’s Part Two of the interview (Here’s Part One if you haven’t read it!).

What were some of the scariest moments?

Paige Parker (PP): For me, it was when we were held at gunpoint in Angola. It was when the government was fighting still with UNITA. 
Jim Rogers (JR): We went to a warzone and we should not have been there.

PP: They were fighting over diamonds.
JR: They’ve been fighting for 25 years. A long civil war. We should not have been there.

How did you get out of there alive?
JR: We just kept going.
PP: No, no, no, we had to sleep there.
JR: That night, the general made us stay. We had to camp with the soldiers around us.

Angola1
4 June 2000. Benguela, Angola – The General who forced them to spend the night in his camp

PP: And if you could imagine, I mean deep in Africa in a rural area, they’ve not seen a woman in a long time, they surely haven’t seen a white woman with blue eyes. And the soldiers were 15, 16, didn’t look particularly well trained but had machine guns, rocket launchers, machetes, you wouldn’t believe all the ammunition, and I remember we slept there. And I remember Jim saying ‘Shall we put up the tent?’ And I was like ‘I’m not getting out of the car! No tent. No way!’
JR: We didn’t even get out of the car to go to the toilet.

PP: And to make a long story short, the next morning, Jim got out the polaroid camera, which really served as a friend maker everywhere on the road – because so many people haven’t seen a picture and they surely don’t have one that they can keep.
JR: But it’s dangerous to do that in a war zone.

PP: But they loved it! So that’s when they brought out all the ammunition and I was taking pictures saying “omg. Time and Newsweek would be dying to see, to get these pictures. And the general introduced us to his senior who can speak a bit of English and he explained to us that the reason they had stopped us the night before, was because the bridge we were about to cross, they had just mined. So if UNITA came, it would blow up. So if we’d driven across the bridge, we would have blown up! So we were scared to death of them, but they’d actually saved our lives!

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4 June 2000. Benguela, Angola – Soldiers showing off their ammunition

How did you connect with the Science Centre, what inspired you to invest in this exhibition which is themed on your Millennial Adventure?

JR: Somebody said ‘Why don’t you talk to the Science Centre?’ So I said okay. And they thought it was a good idea because it’s obviously very educational about the world. And there’s not a lot of hands-on education about the world. You can have a globe in your classroom or look at pictures of Africa, but that’s not quite the same. The story of our drive around the world is a way to entertain and educate and develop fantasies and teach people about the world – which is somewhat scientific, at least indirectly.

We had the car shipped here. The car had been in a Museum in California but since we are Singaporeans, we wanted it to be in Singapore where we lived.

PP: And one of the things that has potential for learning – is to show the difference in technology then versus technology now because we had no telephony. We were dialling up on the internet. And I think for people to think about ‘wow, these people did it, like dinosaurs.’

JR: Most people cannot find the Pacific Ocean on a map. And don’t know why they should care. But if you present it [science and travel] properly, people cannot stop you, they love it. They’re full of questions. They want to know. They want to find out. So if you can do it right, then it’s very exciting! People will want to know more and it can then be very educational for people.

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A/Prof Lim Tit Meng presenting a token of appreciation to Jim and Paige at the launch of the Travel and Discovery exhibition

 

The yellow Mercedes Benz that you travelled in, is the anchor piece of the Travel & Discovery exhibition. How did you retrofit that vehicle to enable you to travel in different terrains and climates?

JR: Well, I’d been around the world in a motorcycle. And she wouldn’t do that. And I didn’t want to do it again on a motorcycle. But you cannot go around the world in a sports car, because you need clearance. You need four-wheel drive. You need diesel. You should have diesel fuel. There’s no such thing as a four-wheel drive, elevated, diesel sports car. So we had to make one!

And so, it turns out that the Mercedes G-wagon which is rugged four-wheel drive diesel has a short wheel base which is exactly the same size as the Mercedes SLK 90 sports car! So, we thought we’d have to cut a lot of stuff – a lot of metalwork, but fortunately, all we had to do and when I said all we had to do, it was a nightmare, we had to take the body off the SLK and marry it to the chassis of the G-wagon. We took the body off the G-wagon too. And voila!

Now, that was terribly difficult to do. But at least we didn’t have to cut a lot of metal and reconstruct entirely. It was a big, big, big job. And it worked. And the car is in the exhibition as proof that it worked.

PP: But as we were travelling, because I always thought – you know ‘bright yellow, Mercedes, you just think, are you serious? But everywhere we went, all the dictators have a Mercedes. So you can get service anywhere in the world. And the yellow is such a crazy colour that it’s non-threatening. And people see it and it’s like a little dune buggy on steroids you know. People see it and kids would come running – it was like some kind of funky spaceship – you know what I mean?

Any travel tips? And what’s your next big travel plan?

JR: Be prepared. Like on the 3rd night, I was saying ‘Hey this is fabulous! This is what it is. We’re trapped in a blizzard. That’s why you do it!’ She [Paige] said, ‘What the hell are you talking about?’

PP: But the thing is, you can’t really be prepared. Because I remember before we left, in New York over dinner and having a glass of wine, Jim would tell me all this stuff, and you just kinda think, that’s not going to happen. You know. We’re not gonna be held up by bandits, and then you get out there, and the reality smacks you in the face and you’re held up by bandits!

JR: Or trapped in a blizzard.

PP: But I would say, pick a place that you have the most phobia about, and go! Because you’re probably gonna go and love it and find out that it’s all this mental baggage that you have and that it’s not accurate because you really see that as you travel. And I would say that you always need less than you think you do when you pack. Because we went with one little tiny suitcase each. You know when your t-shirt wears out, you can get another one.

JR: You don’t need three pairs of high heels. You may think you need three pairs but…
PP: I only have one pair of high heels!
JR: I’m just saying!

PP: Wear sunscreen.
JR: Don’t go travelling unless you really want to do it.
PP: Because it’s not easy.
JR: But if you really want to do it, do it!  And it’s better to have somebody with you in case you need something.

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Check out the Travel and Discovery exhibition in the Annex Foyer at Science Centre Singapore!

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