BEING the driving force behind specialist travel guide business, Bradt Publications, as well as an experienced tour leader, Hilary Bradt has no shortage of stamps in her little blue book.

"I once took a group of militant feminists on a trek to Bolivia," she recalls. "They chose me because they didn't want a male tour guide. Although there was actually one man in the group. But he was a cocaine addict, and spent all his time picking coco leaves and chewing them, so he was quite happy just doing that. In fact, he never complained about anything - at one point he had blisters from trekking, they had burst and were bleeding, but he didn't say a word, just carried on chewing his coco leaves."

During the six-day trip, though, other tempers were running high. "First, the muleteers rebelled because they said they weren't being paid enough. They took our food and started selling it off," says Hilary recounting the disaster. "Then, one town, Unituluni, had no accommodation except for two whorehouses in which we had to stay. The only toilet that worked had a monkey chained to it who wouldn't let you anywhere near it. You can imagine what the women's reaction to the place was - they were furious!"

Madagascar is Hilary's best-loved country, and she leads many tours to the Indian Ocean island.

"I think there is a certain mystery about the place - it's so big and so different from anywhere else. It's very near Africa, and yet it's almost Asian in feel. And the wildlife is fantastic - you just keep coming across these marvellous wonders of nature."

But not all her memories of the island are quite as idyllic. "In 1976, my husband and I were in the north east of the island, pushing through jungle. But our guide didn't know the way properly. We became completely lost and spent four days trying to follow a river. It was desperate - we were covered from head to toe in leeches, there were fire ants dropping down our necks ... in the end, I didn't care if I lived or died - I was just so frightened."

The party eventually came across a settlement. "The villagers were very kind and welcoming, and fed us a meal of roasted weevils, which taste rather like peanuts. But at least we were safe."

On a somewhat gentler note, Hilary bought a Connemara pony and rode across the west and south of Ireland alone in 1984, covering 1,000 miles in 10 weeks.

"I camped wild and tethered my pony, Molly, nearby. It was wonderful - just me, Molly and the incredible beauty of Ireland all around us"

Hilary Bradt will be leading a four-day rafting trip down the Manambolo River in the Tsingy de Bemaraha Reserve, Madagascar, in September. Contact Bradt Publications, or Reef and Rainforest, Totnes, Devon.