What do you do after becoming the youngest American to visit all 193 countries in the world? If you’re Lee Abbamonte, you double down and aim for an even more select list of territories, islands and lawless enclaves maintained by the Travelers’ Century Club.
“I have 318 of 325,” says the Wall Street veteran. By next April, he should have another four, leaving just Wake Island in the Pacific; Socotra, a crazy-remote island off Yemen; and the limited-access British Indian Ocean Territory.
GRABBING THE PRIZE
Lee claimed his last country in a wild scene right out of a movie that required him to bluff his way past rebels into a war zone in Libya.
With the country in revolution, he hitchhiked in from Egypt with a guy returning home after exile. Based on the driver’s advice, Lee claimed he was a dentist on a humanitarian mission. (His only credential: his own straight, pearly white teeth.) He was granted entry, but in the end, found himself in the middle of a gun battle between Chinese cigarette smugglers and border guards.
“It was my last country and I went out with a bang,” he says. And at age 32, he had his record, accomplishing a feat that he figures has been reached by fewer than 100 people in world history.
CUT OFF BY A PRINCE
While Lee doesn’t hold a grudge, he won’t forget the time Prince Harry kept him from reaching the South Pole.
Both Lee and the prince shared a cargo jet to Antarctica. But when bad weather delayed the flight, the royal lad and his group of wounded soldiers got priority to reach the bottom of the planet, shutting Lee out.
Undaunted, he returned the next year and made the pole. “To be honest it was a huge adrenaline rush. We did kiss the ground.”
HANGING WITH MUTINEERS
It took more than two days of open-ocean sailing on a 65-foot yacht to reach remote Pitcairn Island from the South Pacific outpost of Mangareva, the farthest eastern port in the Gambier Islands. And Lee says he was the only one who didn’t puke.
But it was worth it just to reach the refuge settled in the late 18th century by the sailors who staged the famed munity on the Bounty.
In truth there’s little to do other than soak in the history and talk to the locals, descendants of the famous mutineers. “It’s a bitch to get there. It’s very expensive, but it was worth it,” he says.
While he’s not much of a shopper, Lee certainly knows where to browse. One of his strangest visits was to the Akodessewa Fetish Market in Lome, Togo. “It’s basically a witch doctor market, full of dead animals and potions,” he says. “You can buy skeletons and fetuses and carcasses.”
This creepy Costco is the go-to spot for voodoo supplies, attracting shamans from across Africa.
“I remember walking around there being grossed out and fascinated. It stands out as one of the weirdest things I’ve seen,” he says.
FULL MOON LUNACY
Back in his early 20s, Lee admits much of his travel was just looking for fun. That’s how he found himself in the middle of Asia’s most decadent monthly bash, the Full Moon Party in Ko Pha-Ngan, an island in southeast Thailand, which attracts up to 30,000 celebrants.
“It’s this multi-day rave with famous DJs from Europe,” he says.
Lee recalls buckets filled with mystery alcohol selling for just a couple bucks. “You see people doing crazy sex stuff on the beach, drugs. Pretty much anything you can imagine goes at a remote island party,” he says. “It was just insane.”
For all the flying Lee does, he still loves dropping out of the sky.
While he’s bungee jumped on several continents, his standout dive came over the Bloukrans River in South Africa, which at 709 feet claims to be the longest commercial bungee operation in the world.
“It was eight seconds of freefall. You’ve just got to take yourself out of your mind and you don’t look down,” Lee says. “When the cord snaps you go ‘Yeah! I’m still alive!’. It’s the best feeling in the world. It’s hard to explain.”