Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Travel to Bolivia with Ignore the Pain

Note: I'm stepping aside today to invite Janet Greger to share some of her insights. Please welcome her!

Janet Greger:

I love to travel to interesting places. It’s hard to explain what makes a place interesting, but I’ll try. Maybe I’m a bit of an adrenaline junkie, but locations that were once forbidden (i.e. China Lebanon, and Cuba) are interesting. Places with history (e.g. London, Paris, Berlin, Beijing, and Washington, D.C.) and/or that still exhibit a unique “culture,” (such as Chiang Mai in Thailand, New Orleans, and Taos in New Mexico) are interesting.

Then sometimes in my travels I discover a place that didn’t make any of my lists, but which fascinated me. Bolivia is such a place.

Bolivia is somewhat isolated because much of it is at such a high altitude, i.e. more than 10,000 feet, and it is landlocked. The net result is the indigenous people have retained a distinctive culture. Bolivia’s rich history includes the silver mines near Potosí, which were the richest source of silver in the New World Spanish Empire. Bolivia is a sore point in US foreign policy now because it is the third largest producer of coca (the raw material for cocaine), and its current President Evo Morales is believed to be a coca grower.

Locations can add zest to novels. I decided to add a new twist to my third medical thriller Ignore the Pain by sending my heroine Sara Almquist to an exotic location – Bolivia.

The problems in Bolivia are real. Over 6% of the children born in Bolivia die before five years of age. That’s a big improvement; in 1990, 12.5% died before five years of age. Hence, I have Sara serving as an epidemiologist on a team sent to assess factors influencing childhood mortality and morbidity in Bolivia. (Yes, I have served a science consultant overseas.)

Instead of reciting statistics about the grinding poverty in Bolivia, I had Sara relate a story to her colleague Lew in Ignore the Pain. Sara’s story is based on the explanation an artist in the La Paz area gave me for a picture seen everywhere in Bolivia in 2006.

“This picture was emblazoned on all sorts of items in the markets of La Paz during my previous trip to Bolivia. When I visited a studio by the Valley of the Moon, an artist claimed he knew the story behind this drawing.”

Lew stopped shuffling papers and cocked his head. Sara continued. “He said when poor women in rural areas have twins, they give the smaller infant to the mountain gods. Supposedly this picture depicts the sad scene of a mother and her female relatives walking up the mountain to make their sacrifice.”

“Wouldn’t happen. Bolivia is a Catholic country.”

“That’s what I said. The artist laughed at me and claimed the women in the rural villages knew from experience they couldn’t produce enough milk for two children. And one healthy child was better than two dead ones.” Sara paused, “Don’t know if the story is true, but it would be interesting to collect data on perinatal mortality and the incidence of multiple births. We might be surprised by the results.”

There are lots of things to do in Bolivia. In Ignore the Pain, you get a guided tour of attractions in Bolivia, like the Witches’ Market of La Paz. You’ll not only see native women in black bowler hats and layers of brightly covers skirts sell llama fetuses for offerings to the gods, but also smell the aromas of the city. (Not all are pleasant.) You’ll also travel across the austere, almost Mars-like landscape of the Altiplano to see the exotic stone columns in the Valley of the Moon and the shores of Lake Poopó, long a summer nesting spot for flamingos and now polluted by mining runoff.

Sara is your guide. Of course, her view of Iglesia de San Francisco in La Paz might be a little different that that of the average tourist. Someone determined to kill her is chasing her across the church’s roof. The description of the roof is realistic – I’ve been there.

Unlike Sara, you won’t be exposed to danger. For example, the mountain Cerro Rico near Potosí is so riddled by five hundred years of silver mining that it is literally getting shorter. Sara and her friends are caught in a cave-in.

You’ll wish you were sampling juicy chicken salteñas, locro (potato stew), and quinoa with Sara and her colleagues, but be glad you missed the greasy stews made of cuy (guinea pig) and llama.

Although you may decide Bolivia is not their idea of a relaxing vacation, you’ll be thrilled by it vicariously in Ignore the Pain. I

P.S. The cover represents the red, yellow, green stripes of the Bolivian flag across the woman’s face.

Blurb: In Ignore the Pain, Sara Almquist couldn’t say no when invited to be the epidemiologist on a public health mission to assess children’s health in Bolivia. Soon someone from her past is chasing her through the Witches’ Market and churches of La Paz. Unfortunately, she can’t decide which of her new colleagues, especially the unsavory Xave Zack, to trust as she learns more about coca production and the god Tio of the silver mines of Potosí than she ever wanted to know.

Bio: For more on me, check out my website: www.jlgreger.com and blog: http://www.jlgregerblog.blogspot.com.

Here are thumbnail sketches of my two other medical thriller/mysteries. Learn whether the Philippine flu or a drug kingpin caught in a quarantine is more deadly in Coming Flu. Discover whether an ambitious young “diet doctor” or old-timers with buried secrets are killers in Murder: A New Way to Lose Weight.

My novels are available in paperback and Kindle formats from Amazon.


  1. Very interesting, Janet! I had no idea about the current difficulties in Bolivia. Although I had a chance to travel to South America, we didn't get to this small jewel--I had to go via IGNORE THE PAIN instead!

  2. There's a lot more Ito South America than the ruins of Peru and the Galapagos. I hope Ignore the Pain will help arouse interest in the history, politics, and sites of Bolivia.

  3. I didnt know about the colors of the flag that are on the book cover! Very interesting article!

  4. I think the cover is very effective. Bolivia is so small it sometimes gets swallowed up by its neighbors in terms of news, so I esp. appreciated Janet's information.

  5. Bookworm and Diane, This blog was effective if it gets a few people interested in Bolivia. And maybe that will also spark interest in Ignore the Pain.
    JL Greger


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