It was obvious as soon as I arrived in the plush beach club that I wasn't supposed to be there. It appeared to be a networking event for Germans. Not any old German, but rich German business men.
Conversation dried up seconds after I shook each hand. It didn't take long for people to discern I wasn't a CEO of a huge company and move away to talk to someone who might be.
It was supposed to be a social meet up, an event forwarded by a friend of my husband's. I may as well have stumbled into a board meeting.
We sipped our free champagne and did our best to engage the stiff audience. It was so awkward it was funny. A woman wearing a blazer complained of the heat. I could have suggested she took it off, but I don't think she wanted to upset her uniform. We hadn't got the memo about the uniform. Everyone was wearing the same: suit jacket, shirt, smart jeans and loafers with no socks. In 35 degrees heat. Rock on.
We might have gone if she hadn't arrived. Dressed in a pretty blue and white dress and sparkly earrings, the woman seemed brighter and bubblier than the whole party put together. Hearing she spoke English I headed over hoping for a bit of relief from the stilted small talk. I didn't know that this woman and I were about to become firm friends. That we would end up touring Mallorca together and sharing ideas for our future books.
From the very first conversation, my husband and I were gripped by Roxana's stories. She told us how she had given up a stable job in Switzerland to travel through Africa with two strangers she'd met over the internet. The eight month journey in 2002 had taken her from Morrocco to Nambia, travelling through war-torn countries and desert, surviving threats from corrupt official and enduring the most challenging modes of transport!
She must have told these stories a million times, and yet she delivered them with so much enthusiasm and humour. I was utterly hooked. We invited her to watch a football game in a much less posh tapas bar the next day. Being the sort of person who says Yes, she came.
Roxana gave me her book a week ago. It's called Through Dust and Dreams, and recounts her journey through Africa. I was slightly concerned. There's nothing worse than someone you like giving you their book only for you to discover it's rubbish or badly written. You then either have to pretend to like it or tell them you haven't got around to reading it yet. I told myself that if her verbal storytelling was anything like her written, it couldn't be that bad!
I'm relieved to say, her book didn't disappoint. Her journey is epic. As a reader I thoroughly enjoyed being taken to places I doubt I will ever go in real life. Places I feel curious about, but am quite happy to learn about from the comfort of my sofa! Through deserts, down rivers, piled into boats and squeezed into trucks, there are moments of great exhaustion and great elation.
It isn't just the story of a demanding physical voyage, it's also a story of an internal one. She describes the tensions between her travel mates and the struggles within herself.
"Africa taught me that as soon as you give up trying to find a solution, it finds you," she writes. Many of the lessons she learns on her journey will make you pause to reflect. Some might even inspire you to start living a little differently!
When I find a book I love, it gives me great pleasure to share it. If you're in need of an adventure, if you want to escape to another world, if you want to switch off from the order of your life, go ahead and buy it. But let me warn you, this isn't the Africa of safari parks, this is far more gritty and uncomfortable!