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Fleeting friendships and loving others: What I learned during a trip to the Amazon

By Rand DurenJune 29, 2015

Rand in the Amazon 3
A village on the Amazon River

If you knew me it would have shocked you, too. Maybe it was because I was never an outdoorsy kind of guy, but when I told most people back in 2006 that I would be spending 24 days in the Amazon jungle their first reaction was disbelief. 
I understood their reaction. This was in no way the kind of thing I would normally do, but the idea caught my attention. Up until this point, I had enjoyed a comfortable life; the timing felt right to get out and do something risky. Before I knew it, I was attending weekly prep meetings and getting malaria shots. 
It all started at school, when I heard about a group called Amazon Xpeditions. Several times a year, Amazon Xpeditions leads mission trips to the Amazon jungle. My best friend and I decided to approach them. From our first contact with Amazon Xpeditions, we were in. The other people in the group were nice, and as the weeks went by we started really getting into the idea of going into the wild.

Destination Amazon  

We left Texas, stopped in Miami and landed in Bogotá. After a day in Bogotá we took a small plane to Leticia, Colombia's southernmost town and one of the main ports leading to the Amazon River.
Our trip was planned in such a way that two main things would happen. We would work a lot and enjoy it — a lot. Indeed, during our time in the Amazon our group worked hard: We helped build a school in a small riverside community that was a few hours down the Amazon River from Leticia. I saw the most incredible sunrise I’ve ever seen, there. We taught and played with kids at an orphanage. I used my voice-changing skills during a puppet show, and discovered somehow my Spanish helped me translate Portuguese to English.

Rand Duren on the Amazon River
Rand Duren on the Amazon River

I experienced the beauty of the Amazon jungle in ways I didn’t expect. While traveling down the river, we witnessed jaw-dropping sunsets and pink river dolphins. We hiked through mud for hours to visit communities, where residents welcomed us with excitement. We slept in tents, sweated a lot and showered when we could. I ate what was described as “a rodent from the forest,” which was a kind of stew that tasted pretty good, despite the meat having a couple of hairs still attached to it. These were some of the experiences that made the trip an incredible, enjoyable adventure. 

In the Amazon, I put my self to the side and gave a hand to those in need

Interacting with the people of the Amazon, hearing their stories and learning what daily life was to them stuck with me. In the Amazon, I put my self to the side and gave a hand to those in need. Today, I see that this was for my benefit. 

Rand Duren with locals from the Amazon
Rand Duren with locals from the Amazon

Friendships: fleeting and lasting 

Our team was great and comprised of a variety of characters. To this day, I call some of them my closest friends. With others, our friendship only lasted during our time away from home. This is one of the best things my time in the Amazon taught me: In life, there are people who travel with you just for a limited span of time. You enjoy their company, laugh and cry with them, but eventually you leave or they leave — and that’s okay. We move on. On the other hand, there is the group of people who will always be there. No matter what happens, or how far you go, they hold on to your story and you hold on to theirs. Getting to know these people in a deeper way was one of the greatest things I brought back with me from the jungle. I carry it with me to this day.

Was it all worth it? Absolutely. So worth it, in fact, six months later I was back in the Amazon.

Photograph by: Rand Duren