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on 6 August 1999
Unlike other travelogues I have read, this one has a very punchy story. Not a book for the faint hearted, but I suppose South American backpacking never is. The characters (Mark No.2 and Melissa)are seriously "larger then life" although Mann himself is the mundane comparison with which most of us would associate. Mann is a talented story-teller, who has researched the South American history well, He approaches it from a somewhat cynical, anti-capitalist perspective, which would not be everyone's cup of tea. But regardless of your politics, the story reaches out and grabs you by the throat. A great big rollercoaster of geographical, and self exploration (mostly drug enhanced) that spirals towards an all too real,nightmare conclusion. I fought with my wife over whose turn it was to read the book, and she had nightmares afterwards. There must be safer ways to explore South America, but they wouldn't make quite so compulsive a read.
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on 20 October 2013
i enjoyed this and don't get the criticism ther book received from some reviewers. If you are planing a trip to south america or just enjoy travelling it is well worth a read. It's not too heavy for the most part and has plenty of humour throughout. Drugs are only a small part of the book in my opinion, yes there is quite a bit of drug use, but no more I would say than is used by many travellers to this part of the world. What the book does have besides is some great descriptions of the places and people visited along the journey, some genuinely interesting characters and enough history and facts to give you some background but without getting boring.
i would recommend. It has certainly inspired me to travel to this part of the world.
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on 28 December 2005
A moderately engaging travellers tale. However, I fail to see the point of sitting on a beautiful beach for a month, taking a lot of drugs. When this is coupled with the authors rather superior attitude to backpacking it can be somewhat nauseating. Perhaps offloading his irritating travelling companions in the first week might have helped. Some interesting descriptions of Colombia and a smattering of errors in the text, which keep the reader feeling superior as they spot them, ease the passage and kept me on board until the end.
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on 21 January 2013
A well-written story of a South American trip; I'm impressed that he could remember the details after taking so many mind-bending substances on the journey. The frequent anti-capitalist rants, reminiscent of one-sided student politics, became a bit tedious but his descriptions of the people he met en-route, locals and back-packers, are really entertaining. Well worth reading.
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on 29 January 2012
There is - sad to say - a section of the long-term backpacking community whose urge to experience the world is dominated by a desire to take as many and as varied drugs as possible. This book reflects that side of backpacker culture in an unapologetic way and it starts from page one. The book is as much a drug diary as a travel diary. So why, you might ask (if you knew - which of course you don't) do I read this book every few years even though I think it's not very well written and deeply unsatisfying? Well the simple fact is that it's a trip down memory lane for me because I was at college in Oxford with Mark Mann and Mark West.

The Gringo Trail was published in 1999 and over the years has gained a reputation as a bit of a backpacker-classic, being likened to such classics as Alex Garland's 'The Beach' and (stretching the imagination even more) Jack Kerouac's 'On the Road'. If you travel in South America, sooner or later you'll find a battered copy in the hands of a fellow traveller and be told that you 'really must read it'. It is an account of the narrator's trip around Andean South America in the late 1990s. He and his travel companions bus their way around Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and Columbia - meeting some strange locals, staying in some bad cheap hotels, hanging out with lots of other travellers, making some (sometimes) interesting points about ecology and politics but mostly taking lots of drugs - some of them easily recognised as the stuff they could have found back home and others of a much more exotic and psychedelic nature. They camp in some wild and glorious places, get into a few scrapes and generally do the sort of things backpackers do all over the world.

For me the book has one big problem. It's really not clear what it's supposed to be. Mann flips back and forth between the wild and wacky adventures of the three travellers, some fairly heavy 'book research' pieces on the history of the region and some fairly opinionated stuff on ecology and politics. I find it hard to imagine that the entirety of this mix will appeal to anyone. Personally, I love the fun and frolicsome travellers' tales and find I skim over the heavy stuff. Others will love the more serious bits and find the personality elements hard to believe. The book is told in several different 'voices' which don't - for me at least - gel together in a convincing way. It's as though Mann got back from his trip, wrote up the fun bits and the personal insights then sought out a publisher who said 'pad it out with some more facts and figures and maybe I'll give you a contract'. It doesn't read as the sort of thing someone would really put together if they weren't trying to reach a minimum word limit.

I have read a lot of reviews of this book and many readers have suggested that the drug use/abuse is exaggerated and done for effect - a sort of 'look how wild we are taking all these drugs'. The phrase 'It's not big and it's not clever' is one that buzzes round your brain at times. For me, knowing the people involved, that's the aspect that rings most true and it's the pseudy intellectually stuff that jars. Anyone who knew Mark West would recognise him instantly in his friend's book - he was the wild one, larger than life, arrogant, selfish, fiercely intelligent, charismatic - and much more interested in new pharmacological experiences than the Nazca Lines, Machu Pichu and the rest of the continent put together. Mark attracted trouble like black velvet attracts cat fluff.

I read and reread this book to remind myself of old friends. Not just the Marks but some of the minor characters were part of my past. To this day I remain ignorant of a lot of what was going on in the house we shared - I was the ex-girls' grammar school girl whose teachers had done a good job of putting the fear of God into her on all things related to sex and drugs and probably a few related to rock and roll as well. To those readers who find the drug aspects overblown, it's important to remember that the Marks were contempories of Olivia Channon, daughter of a Conservative minister, whose death from a lethal cocktail of drugs and alcohol shortly after finishing her finals shocked the country but came as no surprise to most in Oxford at the time.

To be honest, if a copy of this book is lying in your hotel in Quito and you've finished everything else, you might as well pick it up and have a read but try not to let it scare you too much. You can undoubtedly travel around the area without getting into all these scrapes. If you want a book to help you plan a trip to Andean South America, buy a proper guide book.
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on 23 August 2015
This book was easy to read, and I enjoyed reminiscing about my own travels in South America. There was much less darkness and drug-fueled excess than I was expecting from the blurb. There was a strange slightly jarring mix of styles, with the factual passages and footnotes seeming out of place. I most enjoyed reading about the author's sometimes strained relationships with his travel companions and these definitely rang true. The end of the book is the best part by far, thought-provoking and genuinely moving.
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HALL OF FAMEon 11 June 2002
This book instantly stands apart from the better known South American travel books.
Mark Mann is less of a journalist traveling to gather material for a book, and he is far more in tune with the economic and environmental problems in South America.
The first section of the book where they travel around Equador Peru and Bolivia is essential reading if your heading there or have been there, theres lots of comic situations that are all too easily recognised.
The highs and lows of backpacking are wonderfully spelled out and the three main charcters are engaging, with a little pre-trip history to flesh them out.
The second half of the book, slowly changes to move towards the events which have been variously foretold earlier, and this mainly happens in Columbia, and the last pasrt of columbia, indded did remind me very much of the Beach, although Alex Garland did it better, in this respect.
Lots of thoughtful and inspiring material, a must have for the Andean adventurer.
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on 8 January 2002
Although I've only recently become interested in travel literature, in comparison to some other novels in the genre I've read I wouldn't call this a 'must read'.
Basically, I wasn't really sure about the books purpose - was it trying to give a true insight into South America, past and present, or just tell us something about the Lonely Planet generation? Both, I suspect, but the outcome isn't entirely convincing. I have to admit, bits were dead funny and I liked Mark Mann's kinda offbeat style of writing, but by the end I couldn't help getting annoyed with these politically correct, middle-class gringos. However, I would still recommend the book for a couple of hours of escapism.
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on 4 June 2001
The Gringo Trail, or should the title be "The Gringo Trip" as Mark Mann relays his various drug induced trip(s) around South America? Trips also of emotional discovery with his developing close friendship with Melissa... The disturbing tension felt between the author and Mark are co-ordinated with the comical search for the buried dope. As the pages turn by and they become more at ease, Mark's images of the locations, its people and history produced a very readable book. It served more as a memory-jogger, than as a guide. I questioned the real aim of the travellers. Was it an attempt to escape conformity of England by going to South America, or, to produce a first-hand account and directory of the effects of the drugs available? Although I enjoyed the book, it is very easy to read and the vocabulary flowed, I can't help wondering whether the book would have been written had the [...] events at Arrecifies not occurred.
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on 12 May 2003
I must admit I had to read this in one sitting. Not for the fact that I liked it, but unfortunetly I have a habit of once starting a book, no matter how bad, I have to finish it. And I needed to finish this one pretty quickly. I did like Marks love of the continent, but that wasn't enough to keep the story together. It was almost like reading my sisters diary when a child, but without the secrets, gossip and intrigue. And that’s all this was - a diary, speckled with historical snip bits. The trouble with diaries that are published as stories is they lack the beginning, middle and end needed to satisfy the reader. To be fair, I could have forgiven him for missing the first two out. The Gringo Trail is a collection of experiences that fail to deliver on their promises of excitement and discovery, and makes you end up wishing Mark had made it up instead. Which I’m sure he is very capable of doing. Some true stories are well worth telling, and this is one of them... but more in the pub than published sense.
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