As told to Elisabeth Easther.
I was born in Holland, but because my dad worked for an oil company, we moved to a different country every couple of years. When we lived in Kenya, we went on safari but we didn't go with a guide because back then it was easy to just pack up and go camping. I remember sitting with a group of Maasai women trading my doll for beads. My mama was a very calm and gentle person, very kind, who encouraged us to have those sorts of interactions, and not to be afraid.
We moved to Lebanon and lived in Tripoli, north of Beirut. Sometimes we'd go to Syria for the weekend, to places like Krak de Chevaliers, the huge old walled castle. Behind our house was a grove of olive trees where my brothers and I used to play, and where I developed my fear of snakes. I was about 6 when I was cornered by a large black viper. I'd climbed a tree and it was about to head up to where I was sitting. Fortunately a gardener came along with a pitchfork and moved it along, but to this day I still have ophidiophobia.
When I turned 30, I went to Nepal. I went on my own and did the Annapurna Circuit, but it wasn't very challenging so I signed up for a trek in eastern Nepal. To fund it, I decided to run a trip beforehand and 12 women signed up to hike the Langtang Valley with me. After that I set out on a 42-day trek with five others. It was exactly the adventure I'd imagined, and that's how my first guiding experience happened.
On one journey in Tibet, I was inside a meditation cave at an elevation of about 4000m. We were inside a mountain, in a cave full of locals praying. We had to squeeze through tiny tunnels, holding on to yak hide ropes to get there, and we came out in this huge chamber filled with people chanting Buddhist mantras. Somebody suggested I lead a group there, but I think those places should stay off the radar.
I was leading a group to the base camp of the highest mountain in western Nepal. I was tail-end Charlie, and I was taking a picture of a sheep herder. I put my hand on his shoulder to move him into the light when this huge thing came hurtling at me. It was a Tibetan mastiff and this enormous mountain dog grabbed hold of my leg, clamped its teeth down, then shot off.
I was certain the dog had taken the whole back of my leg out. We were two weeks walking from anywhere, and I just stood there and screamed, with my hand wrapped around my calf. Hearing my scream, one of the guys came back and pulled my hand away from the bitten leg. Luckily, because my pants had a lot of give, the dog's teeth had not broken much skin, but I had the biggest bruise I've ever seen.
Later, as we set up our tents that night, these wild pig-hunting men just ran through our campsite, yelling and screaming, brandishing guns that looked to be from the early 1900s. Then a buffalo tried to cross the raging river next to us on a sketchy bamboo bridge and it fell into the rapids.
Those three things all happened in one day so I said to the cook who travelled with us, let's have some cake to take the edge off. Hemp-quality marijuana grows everywhere alongside the trails, so off he went and very proudly produced a chocolate cake that we hoped would relax us.
Bhutan has managed tourism really well. They've done it in stages, so the infrastructure can cope. I spent a couple of weeks in Eastern Bhutan last October on a reconnaissance and I think we saw 12 other tourists in two weeks. It's a carbon positive country, there are lots of trees, it's clean, the people are friendly, the architecture is beautiful and there's a real commitment to conservation and cultural integrity.
Sometimes when you travel, you feel like you're jostling for everything, including air, but in Bhutan you feel like you can breath and relax. You do have to book with a bona fide local agent, but there's still freedom to do what you want, and not have a cookie-cutter holiday.
The thing I find really special about taking people to countries like Nepal is the transformative power of travel, especially for those who don't feel very brave. I love setting people a challenge. I'll give them instructions, handy phrases, make sure they have the details of the hotel, then I send them out to explore. A city like Kathmandu can be terrifying, but at the end of the day, they all come back with remarkable stories. Pushing people a little bit further than they thought they could go is so rewarding.
Wanda Vivequin is a guide with Adventure South.
More information: see Adventure South.