Catalina Santana (Colombian actress and model Carmen Villalobos) is a bright-eyed and impoverished 17-year-old woman who’s always had dreams of a better life. But it feels as if fate is against her in eye-opening telenovela The Way To Paradise,

It seems that Catalina’s prayers are answered when her sex-worker best friend Yésica (María Fernanda Yépez), who’s known to her clients as La Diabla, talks her into joining her night-time business. The way that Yésica puts it, it seems so simple: all Catalina has to do is have sex with much-older drug traffickers, and they’ll pay her a fortune. With Catalina’s face, smile and looks, all she needs to work on is her “personality”. To make the offer more enticing, Yésica tells Catalina that the rich men pay well in advance, and they pay big money at that, enough for Catalina to escape her poor, sad life. And if that sounds too good to be true, it is.

Lady of the night

Catalina agrees to the proposal and soon meets manipulative Lorena (Aylín Mújica), a pimp with another tempting proposition. Lorena convinces Catalina to undergo a breast augmentation in order to attract richer and even more powerful clientele. It’s music to Catalina’s ears. But what Catalina doesn’t know is that the surgery is just a cover-up, as the syndicate whose hands she’s fallen into use the young women as drug mules to traffic heroin in their implants. Catalina walks into the trap blindly. And throughout the telenovela’s run, Catalina’s desperation will see her putting her life in danger time and again by mixing with dangerous and shady characters.

Not too far from the truth

The Way To Paradise is adapted from award-winning Colombian author and screenwriter Gustavo Bolívar’s debut novel, Sin Tetas No Hay Paraíso. Translated into English, that means Without Breasts, There Is No Paradise. It was inspired by issues in his country, and how young women often fall into a trap of a dangerous life in search of riches. “When I had the privilege of entering the TV world, which is hard to do as a writer, I decided that I wouldn’t waste the opportunity on writing Cinderella stories of the poor girl who marries the rich man. I wanted to do something different. Something that would provide a mirror for my society, the truth,” explains Gustavo.

Defining paradise

In Gustavo’s novel, Catalina was just 13 years old at the start of her downfall and 15 by the time she’s contemplating suicide following repeated breast “enhancements”. Worse still, Gustavo based his story on what some young sex-trafficking victims had told him in real life. "It broke my heart to see two girls dedicating their lives to getting a pair of silicone breasts. I wanted to raise awareness of the issue when they told me thousands of stories of people looking to break into the drug-trafficking world which, for these girls, represented paradise," Gustavo told the show’s production company, Caracol. "I decided to write the book when the girl, who is the inspiration for the main character, told me that the doctor who did her breast operation for free in return for sex (statutory rape and coercion) used a pair of pre-owned silicone implants that caused allergic reactions and infections.”

To some degree, Gustavo’s novel is an exposé about the life of many sex-workers who’re simply looking for a way out. “[Writing] this book was a difficult job as I was denouncing social injustice. In the case of Without Breasts, There Is No Paradise, I am denouncing that a generation of girls without opportunities of employment land in the hands of the mafia because they don’t have other options,” he adds.

Watch The Way To Paradise S2 on weekdays from Monday, 15 June on Telemundo (DStv 118) at 22:00 or on Catch Up

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