|The Lost City (La Ciudad Perdido) some say rivals Machu Picchu|
My novels are all set in dangerous places. Emma Caldridge can most often be found in failing nations, because once the governmental structure of a country fails, everything else begins to fall like dominoes. Food becomes scarce, violence escalates and war, either civil or with an invading insurgency, erupts.
But for my first novel, Running From The Devil, I picked a place that had been in upheaval for decades; Colombia. Beginning in 1964, when the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) engaged in its first clash with Colombian military, these insurgents and the government have been battling it out.
I chose Colombia not only because of its continuing clash with the FARC and the land mines and kidnappings that are their trademark, but also because it has a vibrant, beautiful culture and stunning jungle terrain dotted with mysterious sites that few have seen. One of those sites is the Lost City (La Ciudad Perdida) which is an ancient sacred place only discovered by the non- indigenous in the 1970’s. Few people have gone there, because it requires a two day trek through the rain forest and some years ago trekkers were kidnapped while attempting it. Its history remains shrouded in mystery, and it's believed to be the home of the Tayrona people, but was abandoned during the Spanish Conquest. Indigenous mamo (shaman or priest) go to leave offerings and official trekking guides exist for those adventurous enough to wish to hike there.
A quick overview; in Running From The Devil, Emma Caldridge is on a plane from Miami to Bogota that is downed in the Colombian jungle. Thrown free of the wreckage, Emma watches as the surviving passengers are taken hostage. Caught in the jungle, where foliage blocks the sun and makes it impossible to gauge direction and surrounded by land mines, Emma tracks behind the guerrillas to disrupt their plans.
I wanted to experience Colombia as Emma did, but kidnappings were common in the country, and my Colombian friend advised me not to travel the road between Bogota and Cartagena. She said one only flies over, never using the highway. She also told me that at the height of the kidnappings many Colombians kept a spare pair of running shoes in their trunk in case they were taken and forced to march through the jungle.
I flew to Cartagena, a tourist town in Colombia and the location for the movie Romancing The Stone. The winding streets and colorful plazas were wonderful, but hotel guards armed with machine guns and German Shepherd dogs were a constant reminder of the danger lurking just a few miles away. There were few North Americans and fewer English speakers, but the food was fresh and the people friendly. I decided to rent a car to head to the beach not far away where Emma makes her last stand, but the Concierge informed me that a kidnapping had taken place just days before and suggested I stay put. While I was there, President Uribe declared war on kidnappings and lined the road to Cartagena with the Colombian equivalent of the National Guard. Over the next few days an endless stream of armored Range Rovers pulled up to our hotel, as the Colombians took advantage of one of the first times that they’d been able to drive to their favorite beach town.
Location can add to a novel in ways that are exciting and unique. If you’re writing a thriller it adds immeasurably to the thrum of the conflict and the suspense. I enjoy learning about new cultures and the geopolitical challenges of areas around the world, but travel alone can lead to some interesting stories. If you have a travel story of your own I’d love to hear about it!