Remembering When Former Governor Mark Sanford Disappeared for a Week so He Could Cheat on His Wife

Saying someone was "hiking the Appalachian Trail" became code for cheating after former governor Mark Sanford coined the phrase.

Jennifer Tisdale - Author

Feb. 16 2024, Published 6:49 p.m. ET

Mark Sanford
Source: Getty Images

On Mark Sanford's website, we are invited to "meet" him, which is an interesting alternative for the word "bio." What does Mark want us to know about him? Well, he has "twice represented the First District of South Carolina in the U.S. Congress, has worked in real estate, operated his family farm, and has had the blessing and honor of raising four great sons." As governor he achieved many of the goals he set for himself, thus improving the state of South Carolina in numerous ways.

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He was also at the center of a very public scandal that brought his political career to a screeching halt. It happened during his sixth year as governor and effectively ruined his marriage. In 2009 his wife as well as the rest of the country suddenly became aware of an affair he was having with an Argentinian woman. Perhaps this would have only been an embarrasssing footnote had he not disappeared for seven days in order to be with her. Where is Maria Belen Chapur now? Here's what we know.

John Boehner, Mark Sanford, and Maria Belen Chapur
Source: Getty Images

John Boehner (L) greets Mark Sanford (R) and Maria Belen Chapur

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Where is Maria Belen Chapur now? She has remained largely out of the public eye.

Since Maria's affair with the former governor became the stuff of media fodder in 2009, she has only popped up on occasion. The last time she said anything publicly was only somewhat related to Mark. According to The Post and Courier, Maria fired back at then-President Donald Trump after he made a joke at her expense.

While at a rally in Ohio in August 2020, Trump tossed out an insult directed toward Mark after he lost the 1st Congressional District GOP primary to Katie Arrington. "We endorsed her,” said Trump, referring to Katie. "And she beat a man that likes flamingo dancers from Argentina." That comment was clearly about Maria, who wasted no time in responding. She took to Facebook, where she proceeded to correct Trump's mistakes.

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"President Trump, with all respect Flamingo (sic) is a Spanish dance. Spain is situated geographically in the European continent (just in case you ignore it)." She then added, "Tango is the Argentinian dance ... though for sure you don’t care at all." Trump kept up his roasting of Mark when he mentioned the "Tallahassee Trail – must be a beautiful place." What he incorrectly referred to was Mark's use of the phrase "hiking the Appalachian Trail," which became a euphemism for sleeping with another woman.

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When Mark Sanford vanished for a week, he told his wife he was hiking the Appalachian Trail.

Business Insider reported that in December 2008, Mark's wife Jenny stumbled upon a file of the letters he and Maria sent to each other. They feel almost cinematic as the cheating couple alternates between expressing their love for each other and bemoaning the tortured situation they find themselves in. "How in the world this lightning strike snuck up on us I am still not quite sure," writes Mark in July 2008. How indeed.

Mark wrote in his book Two Roads Diverged that he and Jenny tried marriage counseling after this but "by May 2009, Jenny had asked for a trial separation." A month later, Mark torpedoed his life in the strangest way. In June 2009 he hopped on a flight to Argentina in order to see Maria. To pull this off, Mark informed his staff that if Jenny asked, they were to tell her he was "hiking the Appalachian Trail."

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"I had concocted the strangest of plans in a desperate effort to get my life back," wrote Mark in his book. Jenny had threatened to go public with her husband's affair if they didn't come to some sort of solution by July 2009. Mark was trying to convince her to take it slow, that "if one took the actions of love, in time good things would follow." Like many scorned women, Jenny had no patience for this.

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When Mark was off the grid for six days, his office was finally able to reach him after Jenny and the press got wind of the fact that no one could reach him. The following day he returned to South Carolina and came clean about the affair during a press conference. "While there were five separate investigations and calls for Sanford to resign, he eventually paid out $74,000 in a settlement with an ethics committee and served out the rest of his term, which ended in 2011," per Business Insider.

In September 2014, Mark posted a lengthy relationship update to his Facebook page. The since-deleted post was over 2,000 words and served as a breakup announcement, said People. "No relationship can stand forever this tension of being forced to pick between the one you love and your own son or daughter," he wrote, "and for this reason Belen and I have decided to call off the engagement." They were spotted again at the Congressional Baseball Game at Nationals Park in June 2015 but It's unclear if they were back together.

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