Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | February 17, 2015

Amazing Amazon Odyssey

I love a good adventure story — especially the kind that illustrate the depths of human endurance against seemingly impossible odds. The story of Isabel Godin is just that kind of story. She unwittingly became the first woman to travel the 3,000 mile length of the Amazon River, not because she was an intrepid explorer but rather because she was a woman seeking to be reunited with her husband.

Isabel’s husband, Jean Godin de Odonais, a French cartographer and naturalist, was a member of the world’s first geodesy expedition in the 18th century. His team arrived from France in what is now Ecuador to measure the roundness of the earth and the length of a degree of latitude at the Equator. In December 1741, the 29 year-old cartographer married 13 year-old Isabela de Casa Mayor, a well-educated young girl from a prominent family in Peru.

Jean and Isabel were happily married and had two children. When Isabel was pregnant with their third child, Jean traveled to French Guiana to look into options for returning to France with his family. However, because of political circumstances, the Portuguese and Spanish authorities in the region would not allow Jean to return to Isabel. One year of absence turned into ten and then into fifteen and more.

Without any means of communicating with his wife, Jean had no way of telling her that he was still alive. And, he had no way of knowing that all three of his children had died of smallpox during his long absence. Finally, in 1766, Isabel heard that a boat was waiting on a tributary of the Amazon to reunite her with her husband and take them to France. Isabel sent her servant Joachim on a reconnaissance mission to verify that the rumor was indeed true. Two years later Joachim returned with the confirmation Isabel needed.

Isabela Godin
On October 1, 1769, Isabel and a party of 41 set out across the Andes and down the Amazon River toward the boat she hoped would reunite her with her husband. The journey was beyond arduous. One by one, the members of Isabel’s party died. Somewhere along the way, Isabel sent Joachim ahead to secure extra transportation. When Joachim finally returned, he found that the members of the party had died. Unable to identify all of the bodies, he presumed that Isabel was among the dead and sent word to her father that she, too, had died.

Isabel, however, had not died. Nine days after Joachim had returned, four Indians found the half-crazed Isabel wandering alone and near starvation in the Amazon jungle. These Indians nursed her back to health and helped her to reach the waiting ship. The story of her incredible odyssey soon spread up and down the river. Finally, on July 22, 1770, after more than 20 years of separation, Isabel and Jean were reunited. They eventually returned to France where they both died within months of each other in 1792.

Isabel Godin did not set out to make a name for herself or to do something that no other woman had ever done before. She simply wanted to be reunited with the man she had married and still loved. Somehow her love for her husband kept her moving in his direction one painful mile after the other until she found herself once again in his embrace. In the process, Isabel accomplished something truly amazing by surviving one of the most difficult treks in the world. Love is indeed a powerful motivator.


  1. Very good an old story about the adventures of a woman! Thanks for sharing! Mortuza. Bangladesh.

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