My role as David Attenborough

By Maureen Lipman, June 4, 2013
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My partner's idea of a good holiday is a 13-hour flight to a bus to a port to a ship to a dinghy to a rock to an oversized tortoise. Mine is a family-run hotel with a pool, walking distance of a village with a good restaurant and, preferably, something to look at. This time he won. I admit it was interesting. I did marvel. I did see nature at its most natural. Occasionally, it felt like Paradise.

How do I feel? Like a woman who needs a holiday. My partner has been coughing his lungs up for 10 days and I have a throat thing that makes me sound like a Spanish transvestite in an Almodovar film. I have not the faintest hint of a tan and a gentle spill from a bike has left me with wince-inducing toes.

Before I start my next play, I have to get away, and it has to be to somewhere that wraps me in alpaca fleece, spoons nectar down my throat and allows me 10 hours uninterrupted reading a day. Suggestions please, on a plain brown envelope with enclosed aspirin.

We flew Air Iberia. We'd given our food preferences but still the ham and bacon kept coming. If the coffee had had thin slivers of salami in I would not have been surprised.

By 7.30, you were in a life jacket being helped into a dinghy

Quito, the Ecuadorian capital, is lovely. The Mercure Hotel was serviceable in a beige sort of way but we wouldn't have noticed as long as there was a flat surface to sleep on and no pork. The museum at the city centre was an absolute delight. They placed a sink on one side of the line and when they poured water in it, it went down the plug clockwise. On the other side, just two feet away, and it ran anti-clockwise. How magical is that?

Being of the glass-half-empty brigade, I had thought from the photos that our ship looked like a harmonica, verging on unseaworthy. In fact, it was rather nice. No frills, but ship-shape. The buffet on the first night was roast pork but alternatives were numerous.

I left the patronising introduction from the guide - "I tell you, you don't listen and this is what happens!" - rather early. I was tired, but the good Lord put me on this earth to learn patience and I'm still here because he's not yet satisfied with my progress.

Cabin-wise there was little rolling around and no sea-sickness. You rose at seven and by 7.30 were in a life jacket being helped into a dinghy for the first island - North Seymour. It was a dry landing (as we explorers say). You walk up the beach and along the rocks for five minutes and then, if you are me, turn to your partner (last there 20 years ago and worried I wouldn't like it) and say: "Now I get it!"

Blue-footed boobies have blue legs and feet that look like they're wearing blue Marigolds. They stand in their dozens and watch, unafraid. They wheel and swoop in the air and dive in the sea with poise and accuracy. Sea lions honk beside you and olive-green iguanas with yellow heads the size of dachshunds crawl over every rock and each other. You don't touch or wander off the trail. Conservation and respect are the order of the day.

Later, we saw legions of black-feathered frigate birds, which, when showing off for females, inflate a small red pouch on their necks into a vast balloon. They look like liquorice curled around a gobstopper. Back in the cabin, I called home. I was a very happy woman.

Over the next week, we saw dazzling red and navy crabs, lumbering tortoises making noisy love, tiny terrified turtles fleeing preying herons and, on Porto Ayaya, wonderful interdependence as sea lions and pelicans stood to attention to help the fishermen with the gutting. Real Attenborough stuff. Our mistake was in not booking a few days at the end to unwind by a pool on Flint island.
We flew back from Guayaquil (Don't!) and collapsed home on the Wednesday. The Galapagos is often heart-stopping but not if your heart is faint. Next year, Majorca.

    Last updated: 9:45am, June 4 2013