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Isabel Godin set off from Riobamba on October 1, 1769. She followed the Chambo River out of the Andes to Canelos, and from there traveled down the Bobonaza River.  Her goal was to reach Tabatinga, where a galliot was waiting to take her to her husband, Jean, in French Guiana. (See map below.) To research The Mapmaker's Wife, Robert Whitaker retraced her steps, leaving from Cajabamba--which was the site of colonial Riobamba--on October 1, 2002.
He and Çary Kanoy traveled by bicycle from Cajabama to Puyo, where they were joined by Ricardo Alzamora and Luis Hernandez.  They then traveled down the Bobonaza River to Andoas by dugout canoe, piloted on the trip by Tito Machoa and Marlon Santi, who are from Sarayacu, a village of about 1,000 on the Bobonaza. (Also see television interview about the trip.)
Following Isabel
A statue of Isabel Godin in front of a school in Riobamba named after her.
Colonial Riobamba was destroyed by an earthquake in 1797. The small village of Cajabamba arose on the site of the colonial city.
At the top of this street in Cajabamba there is a statue of Isabel, which was erected at the location of her colonial home.
The statue of Isabel in Cajabamba sits in front of a school, but is badly neglected and almost illegible.
Isabel left Riobamba on October 1, 1769.  She followed the Chambo River as she headed toward Banos, 50 miles away.
The Chambo River descends through the eastern cordillera of the Andes.
Children in the square at Penipe, a mountain town between Riobamba and Banos.
The path to Banos crosses numerous gullies on the flanks of Mt. Tungurahua.
In total, there were 14 gullies to be crossed between Penipe and Banos.
Mt. Tungurahua is still an active volcano, and on this morning--October 2, 2002--it spewed ash into the air.
Just above Banos, the Chambo and Patate rivers join to form the Pastaza River. The Pastaza  roars out of Banos, which is 5,900 feet above sea level.
From Banos to Puyo, a distance of 40 miles, the Pastaza drops 3,000 feet.
The path from Banos to Puyo crosses numerous rivers emptying into the Pastaza. A smaller stream can turn into a fierce torrent after a heavy rain, which made this trek extremely difficult in 1769.
Dawn breaks over the Amazon River Basin.
The mission church in Canelos, which is at the headwaters of the Bobonaza.
A view of the Canelos countryside from the mission church. The Bobonaza is visible in the distance.
October 4, 2002: Packing up at the headwaters of the Bobonaza. The weather had been very dry and so the river was quite low.
At Canelos, the Bobonaza is about 1500 feet above sea level. It is about 200 miles to Andoas.
Tito Machoa is from Sarayacu, a Kichwa village of about 1,000 people on the Bobonaza. Tito regularly ferry goods to Sarayacu.
Tito's helmsman, Marcelo Gualinga, from Canelos to Sarayacu.
Cary Kanoy
Ricardo Alzamora
Luis Hernandez--”el coronel.”
Robert Whitaker
Tito and Marcelo navigate through the shallows on the upper Bobonaza.
On the upper Bobonaza, small rapids are interspersed with calm stretches of water. Thatched huts appear regularly along this stretch of the river.
Dugout canoes move up and down the upper Bobonaza with some frequency. Only a few have outboard motors.
Master mechanic: Tito repairs his outboard motor, a regular chore on the Bobonaza because of constant encounters with twigs and other river debris.
At Pacayacu, a small village on the upper Bobonaza, a suspension bridge crosses the river.
The village square at Pacayacu. The homes here are constructed of wood and with tin roofs, rather than in a traditional indigenous manner.
The jungle often closes in on the river as it wends it way from Pacayacu to Sarayacu, a village about 40 miles--as the river flows--from Canelos.
Arrival in Sarayacu, the largest village on the Bobonaza. About 1,000 Kichwa live here.
A home in Sarayacu, where Tito's family put up his passengers.
      A communal house in Sarayacu.
Marlon Santi, who in 2003 was elected president of Sarayacu.
A peccary--an animal akin to a wild pig--that Santi had shot miles away in the forest.
   Preparing the peccary for butchering.
A bowl of chicha, a fermented drink that is consumed at most meals.
Enjoying chicha after a dinner of manioc, plantain and peccary.
Kichwa girls who are members of Tito's extended family.
 The head of the family.
     Mother and child
Ready to depart from Sarayacu
Saying goodbye at the dock in Sarayacu.
A tapir out for a swim. Tapirs are hoofed animals (odd-toed ungulates) that can weigh as much as 500 pounds.
Tapirs are widely hunted as their meat is  a much-prized food.
A placid stretch of river below Sarayacu.
The beautiful ceiba or silk cottonweed tree. A ceiba  may reach 200 feet in height, and is viewed by many indigenous people as a sacred tree.
As the Bobonaza flows  downriver, it grows in strength and size. However, because deforestation in the Andes has increased the sediment in the river, the Bobonaza today is much less treacherous than when Isabel made her voyage.
      Marlon Santi.
         Camp on a Bobonaza beach.
Marlon and Tito haul a catfish  from the Bobonaza.
This is the beginning of the lower half of the Bobonaza. The river here is filled with leeches and stingrays, and the surrounding landscape is laced with lakes and swamps, making it an an ideal environment for poisonous snakes and jaguars.
While Kichwa  live on the upper section of the river, Achuars inhabit the lower half. The smoke in the boat helps keep the many insects away.
An Achuar encampment on the lower Bobonaza.
The Achuars have had much less contact with outsiders than the Kichwa and may be rather suspicious of anyone coming down the river.
The child holding the soccer ball is ill with parasites, a problem that arises because of the pollution that flows into the Bobonaza from the Andes.
An Achuar boy.
A ceiba  tree in flower. A single ceiba may produce 3,000 fruits, each with 200 or more seeds. The seeds are surrounded by silky fibers that help winds carry them afar.
Tito, at a beach on the lower reaches of the Bobonaza.
A stand of palm trees populated by macaws.
Logs and other debris block the way on the lower part of the river. Isabel Godin's canoe capsized after being struck by a log.
When the river is higher, such debris will be hidden and form whirlpools that a passing canoe must avoid.
Huts on the lower Bobonaza. Isabel and the others who remained behind after their canoe capsized built shelters like this, and waited on the beach to be rescued.
Indigenous people traveling the river to hunt and fish put up these huts, which they can erect in a couple of hours.
Isabel, her two brother, and her nephew waiting 25 days on the beach to be rescued.  Then they plunged into the jungle, hoping to walk to Andoas.
The rubber boots protect against snake bites in the swamps.
In floodplains, stilt roots are a common sight.
A log provides a path through the forest.
Isabel Godin wandered lost through this swampy land for more than a month.
The dense foliage makes it difficult to see more than a short distance ahead.
          Crossing a swampy stretch.
A rare spot in the jungle along the lower Bobonaza where the foliage opens up.
An ideal location for a fer-de-lance, a common pit viper in this region.
A termite mound.
      Another patch of swamp to cross.
As Isabel and her companions wandered, plunging through dense foliage like this, "thorns and brambles" tore at their flesh and clothing.
The Bobonaza flows into the Pastaza. River dolphins often can be found here, and may even play alongside a passing canoe.
                    The Pastaza.
A military post marking the border with Peru along the Pastaza.
Andoas, which is about 200 miles from Canelos.
In 1770, Andoas was a mission station, and the priest there had long given up Isabel for dead.
The town square in Andoas. After Isabel reached the mission station, she was escorted by "Indians"  down the Pastaza to Lagunas, and from there to the waiting galliot in Tabatinga.
A street in Andoas. Oil drilling nearby is the main reason that this town has grown in population.
Heading back: A military post in  Ishpingu, Ecuador, along the Pastaza.
               The Pastaza at dusk.
The Kapawi ecolodge. An experimental project in ecotourism that opened in 1993 and is operated in cooperation with the Achuar community.
A radio hut at a dirt airstrip at Amunday, a community near the Kapawi ecolodge. When weather is bad, it can take days to arrange for a plane to come for a pickup.
     Ricardo, Tito, Cary, Luis and Marlon.
 Saying goodbye: Marlon and Tito returned to Sarayacu via the Bobonaza River.
The flight from Wayusensa/Amunday to Shell, a small town near Puyo, takes a little more than an hour.
               The Pastaza River.
          A last view of the Pastaza.
Isabel’s Planned Route