Will That Be Bolivia, Dear Reader, or Myanmar?

rezendi.com's Send Jon Packing! contest

I've been to a lot of interesting places. Albania, Belize, Iraq, Mauritania, Siberia, Zimbabwe; the Peruvian Amazon, the Tibetan Plateau, the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest; why, I've even been to Toronto. And later this year I'll be heading off on yet another journey to yet another fascinating destination.

But where exactly? That's up to you.

Let me explain. I will soon begin work on my fifth international thriller, tentatively titled Illegal Orders. (My fourth, Night of Knives, will be published by Hodder & Stoughton this December.) I have a storyline in mind, and I know much of it will take place in a troubled and exotic developing nation. But I don't yet know which one ... because I've decided to let my readers decide.

So read on, and vote! See my summaries of the shortlisted countries below, do some research of your own if you like, pick the one you most want to read about, and select it in the poll at at the end. (There's a place to write in comments, too.) But please vote only once. I'm watching you. And your IP number.

I'll announce the lucky winner at the end of September. Then I'll pack up my travel gear, catch up on my vaccinations, fly out to the winning destination, explore its cities and its wilderness, soak up the atmosphere, and post pictures and commentary on my blog. After that research comes the hard part: the actual writing. With luck I'll finish that by April and the book will be published in the second half of 2008.

But wait, there's more! Once the vote is over, before I fly off, I will select five names at random from the list of those who voted for the winning destination, and those five will receive signed hardcover copies of Invisible Armies from yours truly.

Update, 2 Oct 2007:

Well, the votes are in, and we have a winner, but the vote will continue.

"What? Huh? Why?" you might ask.

Well, you the people have spoken, and you have spoken "Myanmar!" in a loud and thunderous voice. Thanks so much for trying to kill me. Don't get me wrong, I'm delighted with the choice and would absolutely love to go, but in light of recent events, it's something of an open question whether travel to Myanmar will be wise or even possible anytime soon. So I'm going to monitor developments and keep the poll open to collect votes for a backup choice, if necessary.

Your shortlisted nations - drum roll please ...

  • Bolivia

    Where? Landlocked nation in the heart of South America, divided between western highlands 4,000 metres above sea level and eastern Amazon jungles.

    How Exotic In the west, the "Tibet of South America": La Paz is the highest national capital in the world and Lake Titicaca the highest navigable lake. The Salar de Uyuni is the world's largest salt flat. In the ease, dense and untracked jungles. In southwest Bolivia there lies a mountain of pure silver ore. Half a millenium ago, the city of Potosi, in the shadow of that mountain, was one of the largest cities in the world, and so fabulously wealthy that its name was a watchword for excess.

    Trouble In Paradise Today Bolivia is the poorest country in South America. It has a long history of coups, countercoups, violent demonstration, heavy-handed repression, and weak, short-lived governments. Cocaine is a major industry and drug smuggling a major problem. There is considerable tension in the country between the poor Native American majority and largely white elite. Potosi lies in ruins, but the Potosi mine is still active today - and the miners' conditions are still deplorable.

    Jon's Experience Jon visited Bolivia all too briefly in the spring of 2004. He rode The World's Most Dangerous Road. Then his backpack was stolen in La Paz's bus station, and he was unable to visit the Salar de Uyuni due to a strike that shut down the roads. He'd love a second chance.

    Wikipedia Bolivia, Potosi, Salar de Uyuni

  • Côte d'Ivoire

    Where? On the coast of West Africa. Also known as the Ivory Coast. Glorious Atlantic beaches, the thriving metropolis of Abidjan - the "Paris of West Africa" - cocoa plantations and a few remaining patches of untouched rainforest.

    How Exotic Until recently the wealthiest and most cosmopolitan country in West Africa. Home to many expats - residents of nearby poorer nations such as Burkina Faso who come to work; wealthy French citizens who come to live. The capital Yamoussoukro boasts a cathedral bigger than the Vatican's and a lake populated by 400 sacred crocodiles.

    Trouble In Paradise Wracked by outright civil war since 2002; a truce is holding, but the country is still divided in two, and the war, as usual, has been disastrous for all concerned. In 2006 toxic waste was dumped in Abidjan, killing many. Corruption is a major problem.

    Jon's Experience Jon travelled through West Africa in spring/summer 1998, on a big yellow truck with 23 other adventure tourists. He has fond memories of such places as Oungaladougou, Treichville and the beaches of Grand-Bassam. He hadn't gotten into the habit of travel-blogging yet, but that journey did become major grist for his first published novel, Dark Places/Trail of the Dead.

    Wikipedia: Côte d'Ivoire, Yamoussokro, Grand-Bassam.

  • Haiti

    Where? In the heart of the Caribbean, a mere 100-minute flight from Miami, on the same island as the (much wealthier) Dominican Republic.

    How Exotic A nation burn of a successful slave rebellion. Home to voodoo culture/religion. Once a tropical paradise home to cavorting celebrities and Club Med, until the vicious, incompetent Duvalier regimes (father and son - "Papa Doc" and "Baby Doc") ran the country into the ground. Streets are full of taptap vehicles so brightly painted they'll burn your retinas. The setting for Graham Greene's The Comedians.

    Trouble In Paradise The poorest country in the world outside of Africa. A major drug trans-shipment point. Considerable tension between the majority black poor and the minority mixed-race elite. Kidnappings and street violence are rife. Even the UN peacekeepers who maintain stability today fear to enter Port-au-Prince's worst slums such as Cité-Soleil, ruled by brutal street gangs. Haitians, in turn, think very little of the peacekeepers.

    Jon's Experience Jon visited Haiti for a few days just a few months ago. It made quite an impression, and he wrote about it at some length.

    Wikipedia: Haiti, voodoo, Cité-Soleil.

  • Myanmar

    Where? East of India, west of Thailand, and untouched by the 21st century. Also known as Burma. A thousand kilometres of nigh-untouched ocean coastline, and an interior of wild mountains and ancient tribes.

    How Exotic Myanmar is ruled by a mysterious and heavy-handed military dictatorship. Politically, socially, and technologically, it's fifty years behind the rest of the world. The battles of World War II's famous "Burma Road" were fought here. Its slow economic growth means that its enviroment and ecosystems are well-preserved; dense forests cover fully half the country, making it one of the wildest nations on Earth. George Orwell lived here and wrote about it in Burmese Days and "Shooting an Elephant."

    Trouble In Paradise Has gone from being the wealthiest country in Southeast Asia to the poorest. Wracked by various ethnic, economical and political internal tensions. One of the world's major drug trafficking nations; its opium production has declined considerably, but it is still a major source for the world's heroin markets, and government officials are widely believed to feed at the drug trough. The government encourages and finances brutal ethnic paramilitary militias. Smuggling and corruption are rife.

    Jon's Experience This is the only one of the six shortlisted countries that Jon has not yet visited. He'd be very happy to correct that unfortunate state of affairs.

    Wikipedia Myanmar, Yangon, Irrawaddy River

  • Nepal

    Where? Between India and China, stretching from the Tibetan Plateau through the mighty Himalaya to the lowlands of the Indian subcontinent.

    How Exotic Eight of the world's ten highest mountains, including Everest, are found in Nepal. At the same time, it's home to jungles, tigers, and rhinocerii. Buddha was born here. Home to the legendary Gurkhas, mythical Shangri-La, and the tales of the yeti. Even the name of the capital city is exotic: Kathmandu! Peter Matthiessen's masterpiece The Snow Leopard is about a journey through Nepal.

    Trouble In Paradise A Maoist insurgency has troubled Nepal for decades, and killed thousands. Until recently it was a monarchy, but after the crown prince slaughtered the rest of the royal family at dinner one night, the royal family fell into disrepute. Now the Maoists are on the verge of sharing power, but violence could still easily erupt again. Both China and India use Nepal as a buffer against one another. There is tension between the Hindu majority and Tibetan Buddhist minority. Nepal is one of the poorest countries in the world, and, inevitably, corruption is endemic.

    Jon's Experience Jon travelled to Nepal in 2000, trekked the Annapurna Circuit, rafted the Sun Kosi river, and adored it; he hates choosing favourites, but if pressed, he'd admit that of all the countries he's travelled to, Nepal was his favourite. He'd go back at the drop of a hat.

    Wikipedia Nepal, Kathmandu, Mount Everest.

  • Papua New Guinea

    Where? Just north of Australia, mountainous and mysterious PNG occupies the eastern half of the island of New Guinea.

    How Exotic The highland tribes of New Guinea were first contacted only seventy years ago. The inland highlands are rugged, inaccessible, and in many places, still entirely unexplored. Yes, I said unexplored. Acclaimed as the greatest scuba-diving destination in the world. Its population of 6 million speak more than 850 different languages - 12% of all the languages on earth in 0.1% of the population.The Japanese invaded PNG during World War II, the Allies fought back, and WWII relics still litter the landscape.

    Trouble In Paradise PNG's people, while very friendly, are also capable of great violence: tribal wars break out regularly, and tourists are advised to keep driving if they hit someone, less they be killed as payback. Port Moresby, the capital, is one of the most dangerous cities on Earth. Tribalism and corruption are endemic. Tension between locals and foreign investors or mining companies can erupt into violence.

    Jon's Experience Jon visited PNG briefly in 2002, climbed its highest mountain, and hasn't stopped thinking about the place since. It's really not like anywhere else. And he would love an excuse to go scuba diving there.

    Wikipedia Papua New Guinea, New Guinea, Port Moresby

Your Vote:
Bolivia
Côte d'Ivoire
Haiti
Myanmar
Nepal
Papua New Guinea
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