The Gringo Trail forged a path as one of the earliest backpacking books detailing Mann's travels with his girlfriend and friend on South America's infamous backpacking route in the early 90's. From the get-go, drugs feature heavily throughout the book, but the focus remains on the actual travelling and history of the region, which all combined, make this a good insight into the backpacking scene from this earlier time.
Beginning in Ecuador, Mann and his girlfriend, Melissa, meet up with their friend newly arrived from London who, somewhat confusing, shares the same first name as that of the author. Invited along for his vitality, energy, "ability for weird shit to happen" and for being a useful person to have along if things get ugly, Mark becomes the de facto centrepiece of the book.
Mark's troubled background and desire to consume copious amounts of drugs - cocaine, weed, ayahuasca and San Pedro - permeate throughout the book. Accordingly, be prepared for a fair amount of discussion about drugs and in particular the hallucinogenic effects that occur whilst he and his fellow travellers consume these. As related background to this, Mann provides some of the history of the drug industry of this region, as information on the shamans responsible for producing some of the more traditional drugs.
Amidst all this drug taking, the two Marks and Melissa manage to squeeze in a heap of real travelling. Whether hiking the Inca Trail up to Machu Picchu, swimming with piranhas in the Amazon jungle, partying in Carnival or immersing themselves in the surprisingly chilled out backpacking hideaway of Arrecifes in Colombia, there is plenty of genuinely interesting moments along the Gringo Trail to entertain and induce a desire to travel oneself.
Mann's The Gringo Trail provides a glimpse of what the backpacking scene in South America was like, in a time before Facebook, Instagram and iPhones enabled backpackers to entertain themselves and post instantaneous selfies to the wider world. There is a lot of R-rated material and themes throughout the book and whilst it would benefit from a more thorough edit, to better fit with today's social norms, it still offers plenty by way of your standard travelogue-type fare in order to interest and entertain along the way. If you can get over Mann's mansplaining style, you'll find a book that is written with a good amount of suspense and one which contains a real sting in the tail of their trail that makes for addictive reading.
3 stars out of 5
Credit: Banner photo by Emilio Labrador