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Geocaching Steps into North Korea

Warren Rieutort-Louis, rieuwa, in North Korea at the "Monument to Party Foundation"

A geocacher named Warren Rieutort-Louis, rieuwa, stepped foot where few Westerners ever walk. GPS devices and cell phones are not allowed. Geocaching doesn’t exist there.

Warren says, “It’s obviously a destination that is off the beaten path and travel is heavily regulated but it was a once in a lifetime opportunity. Fewer than 1500 Western tourists visit it every year.”

Warren’s journey to North Korea was arranged through a tour company based in China. The voyage began with Warren emptying his pockets of items which rarely strayed from his side. There were no cell phones or GPS devices permitted on tourists in North Korea.

But Warren wanted to keep a piece of something that has helped guide his personal exploration over the past four years. He brought along a Geocaching.com Travel Bug. He named the Travel Bug, “Asia Explorer.”

It was a momentous gesture. Geocaching.com Travel Bugs have spent more time in space, than in North Korea.

A Travel Bug is a trackable tag that you attach to an item. This allows you to track your item on Geocaching.com. The Travel Bug is moved from geocache to geocache around the world. You can follow its adventures online.

Warren says, “I knew beforehand that there were no geocaches in North Korea, but I still wanted to take a Travel Bug with me as a symbolic item.”

Warren geocaching with his sisters

A friend introduced Warren to the real-world treasure hunt of geocaching in 2008. He says, “[My friend] only found a few geocaches, but when he told me about it, I instantly knew I would love it. Wherever I am, I try to grab a few caches, whether it’s here at home in the US where I’m currently a graduate student in electrical engineering  at Princeton, or in my ‘real’ homes, the Netherlands or southern Portugal, or in my travels.”

Warren decided to explore one of the least traveled countries in the world with his family in summer of 2011. Their private tour took the geocachers to remote North Korean villages. The Travel Bug could not be placed in a geocache and wait for another geocacher to move it along, but Warren says the Travel Bug may have helped crossed cultural barriers.

He says, “The day I took the picture with the Travel Bug in front of the ‘Monument to Party Foundation’ in the capital Pyongyang, I noticed a look of surprise from the guide who toured with us for two weeks. She was my age. I explained to her the concept of geocaching, and she found it absolutely fascinating. She couldn’t believe that people would carry these from cache to cache around the world.”

Travel Bug, looking over the Taedong river

He says the rest of his travels through North Korea offered, “…an informal opportunity to develop closer bonds with the population, and to discover awe-inspiring cultural, natural and architectural richness of the country. Overall we discovered a warm people, infinitely curious about the world outside.”

He says while the Travel Bug didn’t log any kilometers, it now carries a rich experience in a rarely traveled country. “It’s a unique glimpse into a society that we would find hard to understand its existence… without witnessing it.”

Warren says his other Travel Bugs have traveled the world. “I love traveling, so how could I not love Travel Bugs? I have five around the world at the moment, including my North Korea one, having traveled a total of over 40,000 kilometers.”

Warren geocaching

He hopes his “Asia Explorer” Travel Bug will make a return trip north of the 38th parallel. He says, “And who knows, maybe one day the Travel Bug will be able to head to North Korea… I am sure there will be a day when we will be able to introduce wonderful things like geocaching to our North Korean friends, whilst they share with us their cultural richness.”