Matt Forney
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the-gringo-trail

The Gringo Trail by Mark Mann

gringo-trailThis book is trash.

I bought The Gringo Trail after seeing it referenced favorably in a negative review of Roosh’s A Dead Bat in Paraguay. I don’t know why I took the opinion of some pantshitting anonymous feminist seriously, but there you go. A decade ago, when this book was originally published, The Gringo Trail might have been passable. Now?

It’s not simply a crummy, solipsistic, poorly-written dirge, it’s revolting in its hypocrisy.

The premise of the memoir is that it’s about three English hippies who hit the fabled “gringo trail” in South America to party, do drugs and visit tourist traps. There’s the narrator, who goes unnamed Fight Club-style but I’ll simply call “Pimpledick,” his half-Chinese delinquent girlfriend Melissa, and Mark (presumably not Mark Mann himself), a hard-partying layabout who is constantly mooching off his friends. No, seriously; Pimpledick has to give him a loan so he can even afford the trip:

What I actually meant was that I wanted to travel myself, and Mark seemed a good companion. Not perfect: he was too selfish and intense. But you had to accept Mark for what he was. He had a vitality, an energy. Mark thought he was Superman, invincible and indestrucible, and when you were with him, he tended to make you feel the same way too. Life was a game. Weird things happened (such as the time someone fed his Doberman a tab of LSD and it ejaculated all over the carpet in the middle of a party). He was also, I figured, a useful person to have along if things ever got ugly. If we were arrested, or had to fight our way out of some dark Third World backstreet. Mark could handle that sort of shit — even if he did make it more likely to happen in the first place.

The immediate problem with The Gringo Trail is Mann’s awful writing style. His prose washes over you like a Chipotle fart in an elevator: rancid, suffocating and forgettable all at once. Pimpledick, Melissa and Mark journey all over northwestern South America, from Ecuador to Bolivia and back up to Colombia, but the sights and sounds of their journey are almost unreadable due to his run-on sentences and cliched descriptions. I don’t how he managed to make backpacking through dangerous cliffs, desperado-infested jungles and more as uninteresting as a day at the office, but he pulled it off.

But what really hacked me off about Mann is his nauseating priggishness.

In an attempt to add historical context to his pointless wanderings, Mann frequently quotes from that dreaded ur-text of ethnic studies, Open Veins of Latin America. In fact, he quotes that book so often that Eduardo Galeano really ought to sue him for copyright infringement. Every other page, there’s a whiny digression on how awful it is that Latin America has been so cruelly exploited by foreign imperialists over the centuries, from the Spanish to the Americans:

The Spanish destroyed the ayllus. They divided the land into estates, called encomiendas, each owned by a Spanish encomendero. Indians within each estate had to support their new Lord. The Spanish crown piously instructed the encomenderos take less from the peasants than the Incas, but in far-away Peru this half-hearted request was ignored, and the encomenderos worked ‘their’ Indians to death. The only duty required of them in return was to teach Christianity.

Uh Marky boy, aren’t you forgetting something? Like the entire 19th century, where it was your country that was buttfucking Latin America for profit? Don’t lie to me that you don’t know; I read Open Veins of Latin America when I was a kid and Galeano details exactly how Britain took advantage of the end of Spanish hegemony in Latin America to pillage the place. From turning Uruguay into a glorified satrapy to manipulating Peru and Chile into the War of the Pacific to nearly exterminating the Paraguayans in one of the most destructive wars in history, Britain’s bloody history south of the border should merit some kind of mention.

For all his hand-wringing about exploitation, Mann doesn’t mention Britain’s imperialism in Latin America once.

This is why I despite British leftists, more so than leftists from anywhere else. Robert Fisk, George Galloway, Christopher Hitchens, Joe Strummer: all of them morally bankrupt, craven, disgusting hypocrites. These hatchet men love to wax pious about the sins of America, Germany, Russia or whoever, but they never apply that same standard on their own country. Limeys in general have a collective amnesia about the horrors they’ve inflicted on the world, but the Tories at least have an excuse.

Brit lefties wag their fingers at the U.S. for our treatment of Indians, at the French for their treatment of Algerians, at Belgians for the Congo, but they will never talk about how Victorian Britain conducted a mini-genocide on native Sri Lankans. They’ll never mention how Britain invaded Tibet out of boredom, casually slaughtering natives who were armed with swords and century-old matchlock muskets. They’ll never bring up the Boer War, where the British used concentration camps as a means to combat the Boer insurgency, where a full quarter of Boer women and children died from starvation and disease.

And they will never in a million years acknowledge Ireland.

Want a nice, dark lesson in human nature? Try getting any Brit—leftist or otherwise—to admit that the Irish potato famine was an intentional genocide. Because it was. The Anglo-Puritan claim that the famine just sort of happened is a complete lie. If you want to fight me on this, you better be prepared to explain why even during the worst years of the famine, Ireland was still a net exporter of food.

Answer: the Irish starved by the thousands because London let them.

The British have and will always view the Irish as less than human. “Filthy, dirty Papists, worshipping Mary and getting drunk all the time. To hell with them.” When the famine struck, the government specifically refused to extend any aid to the Irish because they wanted to thin the herd. Fewer micks, fewer mouths to feed, more riches for us was their logic. Forget reparations, forget apologies: to this day the British won’t even acknowledge the Irish genocide, let alone the Cromwellian conquest or the other atrocities they afflicted on that long-suffering land.

Were it not for the Irish diaspora to America, it’s doubtful that anyone would remember the potato famine at all.

I don’t know why I was expecting introspection from this Mark Mann asshole, considering that the guy’s petulance would prevent him from comprehending this post even if I were to print it out and staple gun it to his forehead. In another chapter, he whines about how the Thatcherite ascendancy kept him from getting the cushy government job he always wanted:

I spent the next few years in dull jobs, waiting for something else to throw my heart into. But privatising, tax-cutting Britain in the early Nineties was no place for idealists. The Cold War had been won and lost. Communism was dead. An idiotic voting system and the cowardice of the Labour Party kept green issues off the agenda. The ecstasy/rave scene seemed Britain’s only dynamic movement but appeared to offer little beyond dancing oneself into oblivion for a night or two. Which is fine. But these were desperate times. They demanded something more.

Oh fuck you, you spoiled little brat! You’re wealthy enough to spend six months dropping acid in Colombia and traipsing around the goddamn jungle and all you can do is complain? This poor-little-rich-boy cant informs the entire book, right down to when he and his buddies start complaining about the “invisibility” of Indians in Bolivia. Yeah, it’s a real tragedy that Latin American TV mostly features white people. Couldn’t have anything to do with the fact that South American Indians are hideously ugly, it’s just more evidence of raaacccism!

That’s the entirety of The Gringo Trail: sloppily written descriptions of Pimpledick’s adventures interspaced with crybaby rants and hypocritical hand-wringing. The nicest thing I can say about the book is that Mark dies at the end; not Mark Mann unfortunately, though a man can dream. Yep, the obnoxious little sponge Mark drowns at sea and has his body mutilated by sharks. I admit I got a few chuckles out of the Kafka-esque process it took for Pimpledick to report his death to the Colombian police, but it doesn’t make the remaining 300 pages any more readable.

The Gringo Trail is the mainstream, watered-down version of adventure writing. It has no bite, no balls and no honesty. If you want a tale of debauchery, exploration and masculinity, read Roosh’s A Dead Bat in Paraguay instead; it is everything that The Gringo Trail isn’t.

Click here to buy The Gringo Trail.

Read Next: Naughty Nomad: Not Your Typical Backpacker Story by Mark Zolo

  • Stevo

    Dude – with you 100%

    But don’t automatically make the mistake of confusing English with British – a pretty common error worldwide. The rest of us just get lumped into England’s shagbag.

    We’re none of us blameless, but much of Britain has suffered at the hand of the English too.

  • IamMarktoo

    “Limeys in general have a collective amnesia about the horrors they’ve inflicted on the world, but the Tories at least have an excuse.”
    None of them do.

    There’s an undpoken dislike of American achievements at all levels of society here. Not necessarily individual Americans. I suspect it jealousy. Maybe losing an empire, seeing the world dominated by the USA and its culture and not the English. Not sure. Tried fighting it but, that’s pointless. Luckily this limey, when visiting, has the right accent to open doors.

    There are some great books by Americans on travels south of the border. Particularly Mexico. And, there’s B Traven (German?) and Hustons film of one of his books The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.

  • Trousersoff

    “His prose washes over you like a Chipotle fart in an elevator:”

    And I suppose you think yours is any better??? This article suggests otherwise. There was nothing wrong with his prose. You seem to spend the entire rest of your review ranting about the massive chip on your shoulder against leftists or the English or something, for some reason. Sorry that your review is out there potentially putting people off what was a perfectly good and entertaining book, I’m sorry I ever stumbled across your hateful website you bag of knobs.

  • Hayley

    What a terrible, nasty little review.

  • Stuart

    Yes, this blogger has a major chip on his shoulder. Funny to read.