She Led A 42-Person Search Party Through The Rainforest To Find Her Husband, But Only She Survived

You may not have heard the name Isabel Godin des Odonais, but she was a remarkable woman. Isabel risked her life to reunite with the man she loved nearly two decades after he unwillingly left her. Isabel was born in Ecuador. She was still a girl when she met and fell in love with a French cartographer named Jean Godin. He visited her country in 1735 to explore the region, and while he was there they started a relationship.

It wasn't long before the couple wed. Isabel and Jean spent just a few happy years together before he left the country and was unable to return due to political red tape. He made many attempts to reunite with his wife but was thwarted at every angle. Years passed, and it seemed as though they would never see one other again.

Yet, Isabel never lost hope. When she was given the chance to see her husband again, she seized the opportunity. Her journey through the rainforest was harrowing. Known as "the lost lady of the Amazon," her tale made her famous.

  • She Grew Up In A Wealthy Family & Fell In Love At The Age Of 13

    Isabel was born in central Ecuador in the city of Riobamba. Her father, Don Pedro Gramesón y Bruno, was a well-off administrator. Isabel had a privileged upbringing that included dance, music, deportment, as well as foreign languages, most especially French. From an early age she displayed a fascination with French culture and longed to travel to the country more than anything. When, at the age of just 13, she met the French cartographer Jean Godin des Odonais she fell in love with him almost instantly. They wed in 1741 and wound up having several children together. Unfortunately, their time together was short lived.

  • Her Husband Disappeared For 20 Years
    Photo: Kazimierz Nowak or an unknown author / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Her Husband Disappeared For 20 Years

    When she met her husband, he was a cartographer and naturalist and a member of the French geodesic mission that traveled to South America to measure the equator. Not long after they wed, he disappeared. He had traveled from their home to work in French Guyana. Unfortunately, due to the complicated geopolitical alliances and hostilities between nations at the time, Spanish and Portuguese authorities banned Jean, who was a French citizen, from returning through their land in order see his wife. They wouldn't see each other for 19 years.

  • Jean Tried Really Hard To Reunite With His Pregnant Wife

    It took Godin and his colleagues eight years and over 200 miles of travel to prove that the Earth was an oblate spheroid. When he completed his mission, Jean planned on returning to France. But first he wanted to collect Isabel to take with him. He arranged to travel the Amazon by himself; unfortunately, authorities wouldn't give him permission to return to Quito to pick up his wife, who was pregnant at the time. Jean tried using his contacts so he could reunite with Isabel, but no one could help him even though he had previously been granted special permission to travel in the country as part of the geodesic mission.

  • The Portuguese King Sent A Ship For Jean To Get Isabel, But He Refused To Get On It
    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    The Portuguese King Sent A Ship For Jean To Get Isabel, But He Refused To Get On It

    As the powers of Europe began to shift alliances, so did Jean's opportunities begin to shift. Hoping to appease the French, the King of Portugal allegedly tried to help Jean reunite with Isabel in 1765. He sent a ship to Jean, who found the gesture suspicious. Previously, Jean had written a letter to the French Minister of Foreign Affairs suggesting they invade the Portuguese and Spanish colonies to get their hands on the the Amazon territories and get access to their wealth of resources. So when the king sent the ship, Jean thought he was attempting to trap him - not reunite him with Isabel. The ship waited in a harbor for nearly a year before French authorities sent it away.

  • Isabel's Children All Died Before She Reconnected With Jean
    Photo: MrsBrown / Pixabay / Creative Commons

    Isabel's Children All Died Before She Reconnected With Jean

    When Isabel found out that she was finally going to reunite with her husband, she immediately made plans to travel across the Andes to board a ship where she would meet him in Cayenne, French Guyana. None of her children would be traveling with her because they had all passed away, most of them as young children. Her youngest had recently died of malaria at the same time when Isabel learned that she would finally see Jean again. She took four servants, two brothers, a nephew, three French travelers and dozens of natives with her on her trip.

  • She Was One Of The First Women To Cross The Amazon

    Isabel may not have realized it at the time, but she was one of the first women to cross the Amazon river. But her journey was of the heart, not for exploration purposes. The first person, male or female, to navigate the whole Amazon river was Spanish explorer Francisco de Orellana in the mid-16th century. He also founded the Ecuadorean city Guayaquil. After Isabel reunited with her husband in the 18th century, a Prussian name Alexander Von Humboldt set out to map South America between 1799 and 1804. He and botanist Aime-Jacques Bonpland detailed their adventures in several volumes of books, which made a huge impact on Charles Darwin.