As family and friends of detained American college student Otto Warmbier wait for word on his fate in North Korea, another American who has spent time in the secretive communist nation is describing what it’s like.
“For sheer mind fodder, it’s just a really fascinating place to see for yourself and see the ridiculousness of the propaganda,” says Lee Abbamonte.
Abbamonte is the youngest American to travel to every country in the world. He spent three days in North Korea in 2009.
He says, “I always joke, if you’re trying to go to every country in the world, it’s hard to get people to go to Somalia or Afghanistan or Iraq with you.”
His guide spoke English, was nice and even a little funny, but never left his side.
“You almost feel bad because you know if you did something wrong, it probably wasn’t you getting in trouble. It might be him. Who knows what would happen to him,” explains Abbamonte.
In Warmbier’s case, the 21-year-old is accused of trying to steal a political banner as a “trophy” for a family friend.
A State Department spokesperson says, in general, it’s not uncommon for North Korea to detain or imprison people on false or “trumped-up” charges. But travel to North Korea is legal.