Isabel Gramesón Walked 3,000 Miles Across The Amazon For Love
Back in the 1730s, a group of daring Frenchmen embarked on a mission to calculate the true size and shape of the Earth. Led by Charles Marie de la Condamine as part of the famed French Geodesic Mission to the Equator, these explorers braved the treacherous slopes of the Andes. But amidst all these challenges, one man found something even more valuable: a love so strong that it inspired a certain Isabel Gramesón to embark on a 3,000-mile-long adventure through the Amazonian rainforest.
Jean Godin, a cartographer and naturalist who was part of the French expedition and the young cousin to the distinguished Louis Godin, fell head over heels for Gramesón, a wealthy 13-year-old girl from Riobamba, in modern-day Ecuador. Having decided to stay behind after his mission was complete, by 1749 Godin had decided to test out a route back to his native France via the Amazon at a time when colonial powers in South America were not on friendly terms.
In an unexpected turn of events, Isabel Godin née Gramesón and Jean Godin found themselves separated by the vast expanse of the Amazon rainforest; Jean was stuck in French Guiana with no way to leave, while Isabel waited for news back in her Andean hometown of Riobamba, then part of the Real Audiencia of Quito. For 20 long years, they were kept apart by the political situation which prevented the cartographer from returning to his wife.
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After losing the last of her children to smallpox, Gramesón received news in 1769 that a ship was waiting to take her down the Amazon to reunite with her husband. In what has become an epic love story recounted by Robert Whitaker in The Mapmaker’s Wife , the aristocrat-turned- female explorer put together a team of 42, including her brothers and several indigenous servants, which set out on a grueling journey from the heights of the Andes into the Amazon basin in 1769.
Isabel Gramesón survived alone in the Amazon rainforest during her 18th-century expedition before being rescued by indigenous locals. ( 4kclips / Adobe Stock)
For women of most cultures at the time, such a journey was most unusual. But for a high-class woman native to Riobamba in the 18th century, this was an extraordinary occurrence. When her party was beset by sickness and an extreme lack of expertise, Gramesón found herself alone wandering in the jungle for days before she was finally rescued by indigenous locals.
Isabel Godin née Gramesón was reunited with her husband in July 1770 in French Guiana. After this they finally made their way back to his native France where they lived together until their death in 1792. The story of Isabel’s harrowing odyssey garnered widespread acclaim, thanks in no small part to her husband penning the story of her Amazonian adventure and her miraculous survival against all odds.
Top image: Isabel Gramesón survived alone in the Amazon jungle during her quest to be reunited with her husband. Source: Chernyakov Aleksandr / Adobe Stock