The Gringo Trail


The original Gringo Trail, we suppose, followed the route of Francisco Pizzaro, who arrived in Peru in 1532, and scorched a path of death and destruction up from the coast and into the Andean redoubts of the Incan Empire, in search of gold and jewels to enrich the coffers of the Spanish crown, and, of course, Pizzaro himself.

But the modern Gringo Trail has origins almost as prosaic and shrouded in mystery. It dates back 35 years, to 1969, when a group of refugee hippies known in Aquarian legend as The Nine, set figurative sail from the fast-encroaching corruption of the Flower Child dream in San Francisco to discover and explore the fertile virgin fields of South America.

The word “Gringo” itself is the object of polemic and punditry from linguists and pseudo-experts both North and South of the Rio Grande. Largely discounted is the colorful theory that the word derives from the green uniforms worn by US troops who appeared in Texas at the time of the Mexican revolution, prompting popular protest cries of “Green Go Home” (discountable if for no other reason from the unlikelihood of Mexican peasants shouting anything in English). More likely is the derivation from the archaic Spanish word of the same spelling, meaning “speaker of unintelligible gibberish” and itself derived from the Spanish word for Greek (greigo), a seemingly universal generic for an unintelligible language, as in “it’s all Greek to me.”

This modern Gringo Trail stretches from the pristine Caribbean beaches of Colombia, country at that time a hippie Disneyland of fantastic flowers, gigantic fruit, and a cornucopia of psychotropic substances unrivaled in the entire world, but today cursed by the negative counter-image of that very richness, lost costal jewels like colonial Cartegena, Baranquilla and Santa Marta, home of the legendary Santa Marta Gold, scent so heavy that opening a bag will fill a room with flowery powered perfume, south through Medellin, source of the equally legendary Punta Roja, the capital of Bogot

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15 Responses to The Gringo Trail

  1. robert allen says:

    looking back from my late middle age years, back to the mysterious times connecting a mystical community that moved from Goa’s shores to Andean heights, wonder where they are, if they are at all.such a precious time two generations ago. the full moon will be arriving soon. it casts a path across maunalua bay, past the volcano, out into the pacific towards distant shores. i will be musing soon about exploring for what is left of those fabled times. your blogdowbrigade is an interesting shell to collect on this sandy beach. a reminder of quests past, and perhaps one left to still unwrap.

  2. Jerry Bragstad says:

    2 questions……….

    Have you ever considered writing travalogs/descriptions for elementary school geography textbooks? You write better and describe fuller than the writers of my long forgotten grade-school geography texts. You see well, have a good command of the language, and express it well.

    Second question……..In a Spanish context I encounter the following words:

    bampo…….e.g. Toplobampo, Huatabampo, towns in Mexico and a restuarant in Chicago

    La Bamba…..a Spanish song

    Riobaamba…..A town you mentioned today

    What does this similarly spelled name mean? I have asked various Spanish speakers to no avail.

    Thanks for your help. Will say “hello,” to your “cyber mom” when I speak with her this week end.


  3. David says:

    For a short time, in 1973, I lived in San Agustin.

    My friend and I, traveling down through Mexico and central america, flying into Columbia (the road was not finished then), traveled through this beautiful country by bus. Eventually, the reason lost for decades, we found ourselves at the end of a 50 mile dirt road in this magical place, which even then was a get-away-destination for Columbians.

    Stayed at what can only be described as a boarding house. One room on the second floor overlooking the main street, with a courtyard in back. We took our meals with the home’s family and also, with a group of hippies who, having set up shop in a rented house, had a Columbian woman bring in their meals.

    Stunning landscapes, ruins, horseback riding, hiking, seeing 2000 year old carvings under running waters in a stream.

    Then, one day someone suggested that we take the early bus back out of town along that dead end road back toward the real world and get off at mile post 17 or 20 or whatever to find the magic mushroom growing fresh in the morning, out of yesterday’s piles of bull shit. This we did, and then, waiting under a hot sun for the bus back into town. Being so aware that no one thought it odd that two american kids, with long hair, had just flagged down this bus in the middle of nowhere, next to a farmer’s field overlooking a valley view worthy of your soul.

    Back in town, early afternoon, in our little room where we fired up our Colman camp stove to boil down the morning’s take. For a while nothing, then, what little spanish we knew left us, followed shortly by our english.

    And a revelation that something was happening out on the street. A parade, a celebration, a question. Is it real. Could this really be happening. We two Jews from New York, realizing at some point that we were witnessing the pagent Good Friday, almost as a pagan ritual, ultimately feeling the true beauty and reverance which was being displayed. Etched in my mind forever is that parade below.

    Shortly thereafter, we left Columbia and made our way back through Central America and Mexico to the United States. By then, our money having run out, the luster of the trip with it.

    Oh, but the stories we can tell of our trip to San Agustin and the long journey home.

  4. I’ve always wondered what the ‘Gringo Trail’ was ever since the book, “The Gringo Trail” (By Mark Mann) flashed my sight….Thanks for the Post. Very informative.

  5. Jaun Millalonco says:

    Just wanted to say great job with the blog, today is my first visit here and I’ve enjoyed reading your posts so far 🙂

  6. Equestrian Rider says:

    “The unlikelihood of Mexican peasants shouting anything in English”..

    Haha, that made me laugh! Thanks for the post.

  7. Mike says:

    Some of the best scenery in South America can be found on and around the Gringo Trail. I have seen pictures of Marañón Canyon, a Canyon that is even deeper and biologically diverse then even our own Grand Canyon. The history of the area is rich and I would just love to spend some time there and experience the culture.

  8. Caius says:

    Ha ha – “speaker of unintelligible gibberish” – sums it up perfectly.

  9. Very informative, thank you. I would like to see also some great pictures.

  10. Florela says:

    Great stuff. Maybe you have more pictures?

  11. Recommended to me by a couple of back-packers from the UK. Enjoyed it so much.

  12. Very good article. I’d like to also see some pics.

  13. anime says:

    If you are looking for an authentic experience away from well-worn paths and then consider Paraguay, where there is hardly even a road, much less an equal. Met only three other passengers in our three weeks in the country. You will have the UNESCO World Heritage Site, as the Jesuit ruins of Trinidad and Jesus himself, find friendly people who are not jaded by a steady flow of travelers, and discover little gems known as Laguna Blanca, a quiet lake with beaches white sand and crystal clear waters of the Caribbean style.

  14. birthday sms says:

    And a revelation that something was happening in the street. A parade, a party, a question. Is it real. Could this happen. We two Jews from New York, realizing at some point we were witnessing the Pagent Friday, almost like a pagan ritual, ultimately, feeling the true beauty and reverence that is being viewed. Etched in my mind forever is less than the parade.

  15. I have seen pictures of Marathon Canyon, a Canyon that is even deeper and biologically diverse then even our own Grand Canyon.

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