The road to adventure: Liz Wurster raises money for orphanage in Peru
By Katie Scarvey
Liz Wurster got a serious case of wanderlust about five years ago and set out on what would become a series of travel adventures around the world.
She recently spent 18 months trekking around South America with her boyfriend and traveling partner, Conor Bolger. Now she’s back, but the adventure continues. She and Conor are biking their way across the country ó something Liz has always wanted to do.
It probably wouldn’t have happened were it not for some children in Peru.
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Liz, 30, grew up in Salisbury, the daughter of Jean and the late Stephen Wurster. She went to Salisbury High School and then to the University of Richmond, where she participated in several study abroad programs.
“I was always so fascinated by leaving the country,” Liz says. “I always learned so much.”
She never lost the mindset that the world is her classroom, never got over the travel bug.
She wound up in Boulder, Colo., teaching Spanish and politics.
Liz and Conor began their big-time traveling in 2004 and 2005, when they bought an around-the-world airline ticket. They spent 10 months traveling to Fiji, New Zealand, Australia, Southeast Asia, and a few countries in Europe.
You’d think that a trip like that would satisfy the bug for a while, but it didn’t. It wasn’t too long before they got the itch to travel again. They took a shorter trip to Central America before deciding to spend a year experiencing South America.
That year got stretched into 18 months, partly because they wanted to get their Divemaster certification, which entailed spending six weeks in Colombia.
Part of the reason for the trip, Liz said, was to perfect her Spanish and to experience South American culture so that she could be a better classroom teacher. They had also decided that they wanted to do some volunteer work in South America, and the perfect opportunity emerged when they found out about the Hogar San Francisco de Asis in Peru from one of Conor’s friends from his hometown in Ireland. The hogar (which translates to “home”) takes care of children who are either orphaned or who have medical issues that their families are unable to handle, including cancer, tuberculosis or cerebral palsy.
The first time Liz and Conor visited the hogar, they spent a month there. They continued on their travels and six months later returned for another two weeks.
While they were there they’d get up at 5 or 6 a.m. and help the children through morning rituals like tooth-brushing. They’d spend most of the day helping care for the children, like carrying the ones who used wheelchairs upstairs so they could use the bathroom on the second floor.
Liz and Conor would also help take the babies and toddlers into the city of Lima for their medical appointments ó therapy or surgery.
They would sometimes accompany the hogar’s cooks on food-buying excursions, and that opened their eyes to the hogar’s financial reality.
“We started to realize how much everything costs,” Liz said, “and how they run short of money.” Every penny, she said, goes to something very important for the kids.
One day at the hogar, sitting around surrounded by kids, Liz got the idea of a cross-country cycling trip as a way to raise money for the hogar. Liz says she’d always had a strong desire to bicycle across the country, even though she isn’t a serious cyclist.
She brought the idea up, adding that they could get sponsors and donations.
“I don’t think anybody took me seriously,” she said.
After they returned from South America, she sat Conor down and told him that she was serious about the bike trip and that she wanted him to do it with her.
“He didn’t answer right away,” Liz says.
Conor got on board, however, and they decided to try to raise $22,000, which is about the amount it takes to cover the hogar’s expenses for one month, including food, surgeries and therapies for the children.
The fundraising is going pretty well, Liz says. Initially she sent an e-mail out to about 200 people; Conor also approached his friends through e-mail. Their friends forwarded the email to other friends, and now she and Conor are hearing from people they’ve never even met before.
She’s grateful for having her “fabulous” Greg LeMond touring bike donated by Brandon Bellows of Salisbury.
They began their trip May 2 in San Diego and are working their way to Florida.
She and Conor work well as a team.
“We have our understood positions,” she says. “I take care of logistical stuff, funds, blogs, all the requests for money.
Conor deals with the down and dirty stuff.
“If a tire bursts, he fixes that,” she says. “He can fix anything. He touches it with his finger and it’s better.”
Conor, Liz says, is a big part of the reason she started traveling in the first place.
Part of the secret of their success is simply being able to roll with whatever is thrown at them. When bad things happen ó and they do occasionally ó they don’t “freak out and lose it,” Liz says.”I’m kind of becoming an expert on figuring out a way to stay calm,” she says.
(If you read the South American blog, you’ll realize that they had plenty of things to stay calm about: witnessing a bloody machete fight, getting robbed …)
People along the way are helping as they hear about Liz and Conor’s fundraising, sometimes buying them lunch or letting them camp for free.
They’re giving themselves 80 days to complete the trip, which will end in St. Augustine, Fla. ó by the end of July, they hope.
They will ultimately cover 3,200 miles.
So that they can give more to the hogar, they’re doing everything they can to keep costs down, which means that they eat a lot of $5 footlong subs from Subway, she says ó because they’re inexpensive, portable and healthy.
They’ve had a few scary moments. One long leg of the trip without access to water was particularly unnerving, since they knew that stretch of highway sometimes landed dehydrated cyclists in the hospital.
“You can only carry so much water,” says Liz, who estimates that they drink about 12 liters of water each day while they’re riding, and then probably another three liters when they’re off the bikes.
Coming into a town of 10,000 now is exciting to them ó since that means it will have a fast food restaurant and a campground.
These days, Liz says she gets “ridiculously excited about tiny things” ó like being able to go see a movie in the evening.
Their days start early, around 5:30 a.m. They’re cycling by 6. Around noon they have to knock off because of the heat. When the weather cools a bit they go out again.
They stay at campgrounds most of the time but about a third of the time they end up camping on the side of the road. About 10 percent of the time they stay in a motel.
And how does Liz’s mom feel about her daughter’s travels?
“She’s always been an adventuresome kid, so I wasn’t surprised,” Jean Wurster says.
“I have really encouraged her,” adds Jean, who says that had she grown up in a different era, she might have been drawn to similar adventures.
She does worry, but she’s comforted that both Liz and Conor are savvy and have good common sense ó and she believes that Conor would “lay his life down” to protect Liz if need be.
nnnIf you’d like to check out Liz’s blog and read about her bike trip or her South American trip, go to www.getjealous.com/conorbolger. If you have questions, you can get in touch with Liz at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you’d like to donate to the hogar, you can make checks out to Villa La Paz, which is the foundation in charge of the funding for the Hogar San Francisco de Asis. The Internal Revenue Service recognizes Villa La Paz, Inc. as a 501(c)(3) tax exempt organization and all donations are tax deductible.
Donations may be sent to Jean Wurster, 504 Camelot Drive, Salisbury, NC 28144.