Written by Rich Forestano Wednesday, 02 April 2014 00:00
Think of a place. Any place. Chances are good that former Williston Park resident John Massaro has been there. He’s traveled to 87 countries and 49 out of 50 states.
Massaro, 60, has even been to North Korea, a country very few Americans have seen, in August 2013. And he's got one message: it’s not that bad. In fact, he wants to take your kids there.
“North Korea is as safe as any country,” he said. “It has only been in the last four years that American citizens have been allowed to visit. My educated guess is that only about 1,000 have done so.”
Massaro has a dream to lead the first American high school delegation to North Korea, so they can experience first-hand the most secretive nation on earth.
“Travel is the most educational thing in the world,” he said. “Kids would learn so much if they had a chance to see different parts of the world.”
To that end, Massaro is launching a new travel business, Orinoco Travel, focused on delivering high-impact tours for teens and families to a range of destinations, from regions in the U.S. to exotic locales at the four corners of the globe.
By day, he works for a heating oil business in Massapequa Park; he previously owned Arcadia Fuel, he said. It's a business with busy winters and calm summers, he says, which is what allows him to travel.
Massaro plans to escort small groups of adults on four to five-day trips to North Korea, in conjunction with Young Pioneer Tours, the group he routinely used. He also has treks to China, Iceland, France and Iran in mind.
“I’ve been told no parents in their right minds would let their kids go to North Korea,” he said. “And that’s very sad because it is safe and they would be welcome there. I tell everyone that any big city in this country is much more dangerous than going to North Korea.”
While acknowledging North Korea is a hardcore communist country, Massaro feels it gets a bad rap.
“You just have to be careful about what you do,” he said. “I usually travel alone, but you’re not allowed to travel alone to North Korea. You have to be in a group.”
But that's just one of many interesting places Massaro has been. He crossed the Sahara Desert by Land Rover in 1981. He trekked through both Siberia and the Congo in 1982. He has been to Iceland and Thailand, France and Japan. Massaro has seen it all. He spent a week in North Korea, six days in Cambodia and 16 in Vietnam and took a bus into China before going to North Korea. His trip to Vietnam was an eye-opener, he says.
Massaro visited the Vietnamese battle grounds of Caisson and Hamburger Hill. He had to attain a permit to climb the hill, because “nobody goes there.”
“The more I traveled and the more talked to people in Vietnam, I had no idea that Americans were so vilified for the Vietnam War,” he said. “I knew it was bad but not like that. I grew up during the Vietnam War and it’s not what they told you in school.”
The fearless traveler attempted to hitchhike to Alaska, but never made it. “I rode freight trains through Canada and ended up jumping on one that went the wrong way,” he said.
Not every one of his own exotic travels makes his recommended list for high school students. In the Congo, for example, Massaro felt really unsafe. He traveled on foot in that country, sleeping in tents. For fear of being robbed, his group kept 2-hour watches throughout the night. Massaro recalled one night when a truck pulled up near his group at around 2 a.m. and argued they camped out near a sacred cemetery. The men, Massaro says, were clearly inebriated. Massaro wrote a book titled Across The Congo, about what he calls “the adventure of my life,” but it was never published.
“I would never take anyone to the Congo. No one would go,” he said. “People would come and slice open the tent and steal anything. Not violent crime, but petty theft. I won’t bring students anywhere if it’s unsafe.”
Massaro, who now lives in Amityville, attended Mineola public schools. He graduated from Chaminade High School in 1971 and earned a bachelor's degree from Adelphi University. His father, Ralph, still lives in Williston Park.
For more information on Massaro’s travel business, go to www.orinocotravel.com or call 516-457-3545.