Squeezing the most out of life | An Aussie and a Colombian living life with a wandering spirit. Eight years together & over 60 countries up our sleeves, we're sharing the love |

Getting a taste for Colombia’s coffee culture

DSC_0902Colombia, being the world’s third largest producer of coffee behind Brazil and Vietnam, means it’s kind of hard to escape the aroma as you travel throughout the country. After four years avoiding the stuff I made an executive decision as soon as we arrived that not drinking coffee on this trip was absolute nonsense. It would be like not drinking beer in Ireland – loco!


In the town of Salento where we are exploring the country’s coffee region the waft of coffee beans is certainly not subtle. In the main town and along the local trails, you can constantly smell coffee – mixed with the heady scent of fallen fruits like banana, avocado and guava. Farmers will wave or offer a friendly smile and locals get about on dirt roads in jeeps and motorbikes; happy to stop if you need a point in the right direction. You can imagine why the ultra green, mountainous region is easy to fall in love with. 


Salento is a colourful little town at an altitude of 1895 metres that is popular with travellers as a chilled place to explore nature, and to load up on world class coffee of course. Besides hiking, horse riding, tasting the local delicacies (trout and pork) and chilling in a hammock, visiting a coffee plantation rates pretty highly for most tourists.


We can highly recommend this one as a well regarded, sustainable and ethical coffee farm. It’s a beautiful walk about an hour from the main plaza through hilly homesteads and country lanes and the tours are in English or Spanish. You get to pick your own ripe coffee cherries on the farm and sip some of their first class brew.

Here’s a taste!





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Palomino: not really our idea of a Caribbean paradise

dsc_0760Palomino came recommended as a down to earth, yoga on the beach, hippy-esque kind of place “that you guys would love”. A tiny village on the Caribbean coast, about 6 hours by bus from Cartagena, where the jungle meets the ocean below the Sierra Nevada. What’s cool is the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta sits as an isolated mountain range apart from the neighbouring Andes mountains, making it the world’s highest coastal peak and naturally appealing to us.

dsc_0761What is also unique about the area, besides the UNESCO declared biosphere region, is the cultural diversity of the locals. Most of the population are Mestizo, followed by Afro-Colombians, Andean famers and by traditional indigenous groups. The Kogi and Arhuaco Indians that live in the Sierra Nevada Mountains visit Palomino constantly to get sea snails, exchange their handmade products or to perform their native rituals next to the ocean. You will see the Kogi dressed traditionally getting about the town and hanging down the beach in small groups. They now also guide jungle treks and bird watching expeditions for interested tourists. Sadly though, the Kogi are crying out against a tidal wave of modern development that is fast destroying their native environment.


Travelling to Palomino, the scenic drive made all the right noises as we passed by sugar cane fields, makeshift food stalls, and away from the high rise development of Santa Marta. As we arrived, the vibe instantly felt creative and low key, but by not wanting to plan too much this holiday we made a rookie mistake; finding ourselves on a Colombian long weekend with almost no accommodation options. Staying in a ‘party’ hostel in a dirty dorm room with a suspect pool wasn’t our first choice but that’s how things played out.

dsc_0747Regardless of our digs, Palomino seems like the kind of place where Colombians of all ages always gather to party; drinking heavily on the beach, drinking heavily in the pool, drinking heavily at the river and smoking weed on the beach (not to mention the robust sniffs that could be heard throughout the night in the dorm bathroom). Such an overtly enthusiastic approach to partying, while I am the last to judge, shaped the whole vibe of the place in a dark way. Because people weren’t too friendly (read: wasted) and the town is poorly lit I was left feeling a little on edge compared to other parts of Colombia.

The sketchy vibe was not too dissimilar to the treacherous shore break off the main beach that rendered swimming in the surf completely unappealing. As an Aussie I can appreciate that I’m a tough critic when it comes to beaches but considering very few people were swimming in the surf the locals knew what was up as well. Not being able to swim safely when it’s hot kind of blows, and I’m guessing the number of drownings, let alone drunken deaths is pretty high. It is safe to swim in the river close to the beach though and that’s pretty nice, albeit crowded.

dsc_0765On the plus side, it’s always nice to be beachside and we were treated to some gorgeous sunsets and lazy, quiet time. Staying close to the ocean we headed down after dinner to sit under the stars (super clear in this part of Colombia), feel the force of the coastal winds, listen to the lively music and watch the shady shenanigans on the beach. If you’re looking for a luxury or moderately cushy Caribbean paradise Palomino won’t fit the bill, but for others it might just be the precarious disconnect you’re after. I’ve added a few photos to help you decide for yourself.


Next stop: we’ve shifted to an old favourite, the (grubby in a good way) fishing village of Taganga.

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Kicking back in Cartagena

dsc_0663Cartagena is one of those places in Colombia that you kind of have to find out what all the fuss is about. Imagine a huge, stone fortress wherein classic Colombian buildings have been turned in to upmarket hotels and fine restaurants; interspersed with bars and markets that have attracted local patrons for hundreds of years. All enhanced by a crumbling, artistic beauty that takes on a kind of magical ambience at night.

dsc_0672The historic walled city sits on the edge of a busy Caribbean port where the culture has developed from island living, seafaring Spanish trade, freed African slaves and creole cooking. The heat is relentless, the street food fresh and the all night salsa music infectious. Knowing that the city is a jumping off point to exotic islands, coral reefs, and powdery beaches it’s easy to see how Cartagena is the most visited destination in the country.

dsc_0684As tourists staying in a friends’ home style hostal in Getsemani, our days were spent sitting in the shade when it was too hot to move, sipping cerveza, and watching the colourful passage of locals pedalling anything from rum infused coffee to salted green mango and octopus cerviche.

You could spend days working your way through the exotic list of fruit cocktails, coconut infused deserts and seafood options alone. Add to all of that a thriving street art scene, a small surfing community and an elite group of international tourists with money to burn and you’ve got an eclectic destination that’s well worth spending a few days.

Thanks for an awesome stay Senor Faustino!


For more photos of Cartagena from our last visit you might like this blog post.

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Photodump: Beyond Villa de Leyva

dsc_0584Taking some time out to explore the natural spaces that Andres grew up in, we took the old family jeep out for the day. Climbing through the dusty roads that intersect windy corn fields and flowering fruit trees we visited a stunning monastery built in the 16th  century.

dsc_0547Amongst the steep green mountains and ochre dirt, farmers plough fields by hand or with the help of well worked animals, living simply in rough hewn houses along unnamed roads. The extensive area surrounding the beautiful town of Villa de Leyva is another reason to put Colombia on your travel list! K+A

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Watching the world go by in Villa de Leyva

dsc_0488A few hours drive outside the capital of Bogotá is a place I like to think of as ‘fantasy’ Colombia. A place set in a valley below the Andes mountain range where some locals still ride horses and meet in the square wearing a sombrero and a poncho over their shoulders. A traditional village where cobblestone streets, white washed walls and terracotta rooftops assemble in a grand historic plaza.

dsc_0462It’s no wonder that Villa de Leyva sits at number two behind Cartagena as the most popular tourist destination in Colombia. As a beautiful maze of hotels, restaurants and shops, Villa de Leyva remains virtually unchanged for hundreds of years, a testament to the durability, peace and good government of the Colombian community that lives there.

dsc_0472Together with Andres’ parents we spent a few days enjoying all that the village has to offer; food slowly cooked in the smoky coals of the wood fired oven, futbol games watched fireside, and chilled time exploring the rustic streets and restaurants.

dsc_0498Besides all of the obvious charm, what is great about Villa de Leyva compared to Bogota is the feeling of safety; especially being able to walk around autonomously as a woman who is clearly a tourist. In the capital, due to big city crime, I generally don’t like to carry anything of value, so it’s not only good to get some country air but feel free to get creative with my camera.

With all that in mind here’s a peak at the historic vibe of this stunning part of Colombia.


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Back in the beat of Bogotá

dsc_0374Colombia is one of those countries that plays havoc with good intentions; in a you-only-live-once, reckless kind of way. Being back on the busy, high altitude streets of Bogotá, where the weather does it’s drizzly best to lure you in to cafe’s, bars and restaurants, it’s easy to forget all the rules and dive in to eating and drinking like a local (albeit one who has been told they only have days to live!).

dsc_0375Within 24 hours I had succumbed to the intoxicating aroma of Colombian beans, kicking a four year abstinence from the stuff well and truly to the curb. Within pretty much the same time (because we all know coffee is a gateway drug), I decided that my long term sobriety was an equally stupid idea in a city that is all about music, staying up late and dancing with abandon. Not to mention, the magical powers of alcohol when it comes to the ability to speak in a second language. Add to all of that a decadent array of high calorie cuisine and my stomach is fast realising that five weeks at this pace may need 5 months of recovery. But who cares, seriously?

Colombia has definitely grabbed us by the short and curly’s and reminded us why life in Latin America is all about enjoying the moment with family and old friends.

Between some crappy phone shots and my good camera, here’s a taste.


Next stop: the historic town of Villa de Leyva.

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Reflections from Planet Hospital


As the weeks are flying by, I’m learning the practical side of being a social worker at our local hospital, a place that often feels completely surreal. Along the way I’m realising how the environment I’m in and the personal stories I hear are very much about new life or change – just as often as they are about the end of life and the finality of death.

It’s an environment that makes me appreciate even more the vividness of nature and the joy of being ‘outside’. A place that reminds me how precious time is. A place that tells me how much we all need to let the menial crap we tend to get worked up about totally slide.


Half way through my Placement now I can appreciate just how much I have learnt in only nine weeks. I’m learning to sit with strangers as they cry, as they attempt to verbalise how much their illness equates to loss, or how different their life looks from a hospital bed. Stories that I want to hear and not only understand, but be able to offer support in some small way; maybe even make some patients laugh for a moment.

More than ever I realise that a sense of humour is necessary for social work, at least it seems essential in a health setting, not only for patients and their loved ones, but for everyone working there. In such an intense clinical environment where people are generally always hearing bad news it can feel too much to take it all on, so the need to lighten the mood feels universal amongst the staff. Privately of course, and not at anyone’s expense, but keeping life, loss and death light seems to become second nature for a lot of the medical team. Sitting with real grief seems to come around often enough.


Planet hospital has also quickly reinforced my long-term beliefs around money, adventure and life choices. It seems that no matter how hard you work your arse off, loads of assets won’t make that much difference in your later years. Sure, you’ll get a better pick of residential care homes if you make it to that stage of life, and a glass of fancy wine with your mashed peas, but you’ll be alright if you haven’t got much either. It seems the love around you and the way you’ve lived your life will be all you’re thinking about towards the end.

No surprises there – but to really see that everyday, feels like a deeper lesson.

Speaking to patients reminds me that following your dreams, saying yes to adventures and not working at something you feel dispassionate about can make all the difference in life. Just as much as you think good genes or healthy living might give you an advantage, a little decadence and poor health choices aren’t always as detrimental as you might think either, so why not enjoy yourself.
DSC_0115Thinking about how much the first half of Placement has shaped the way I look at the health system as a whole makes me appreciate how much more there is to learn. After only studying the theoretical and practical counselling skills of social work before Placement I am more determined than ever to finish my degree and start working in the field.

After another little adventure though!

While I am definitely enjoying this journey I can’t help but start looking forward to our holiday in Colombia, a country that does a good job of reminding me of all the reasons why its good to be alive, quite easily, all by itself.

Here’s hoping you’re also working towards an adventure or an experience that brings you joy.


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A different kind of journey

63162_478687125495124_1846408123_nThings are going to be quiet on the Sporks side of life for the next few months as
I explore a new, slightly terrifying, but hopefully rewarding environment.

As a student of Social Work at the University of Queensland, my degree includes two semesters of full time Placement – one during my current third year, and one during the last semester of fourth year. The aim being to give students the opportunity to explore the practical reality of Social Work, in an area that we feel most passionately about. For me, after volunteering in aged care as a teenager, while it sounds morbid to most people, I have always been drawn to the idea of working with families around end-of-life support. Specifically, the emotional and practical processes of grief and loss, death and dying. Ideally, that would involve working in private homes, a community hospice, or a hospital; with the aim of advocating for individuals to die in the most meaningful, autonomous and dignified way as possible.

I believe it would be a privilege to support people on their final ‘journey’ and to help those who are left behind to function in their grief. For a long time, I’ve felt that so many other cultures outside Australia incorporate the rituals around dying in to life in so much better ways than we do. Through travel I’ve been fortunate to watch funeral processions through rural villages in different parts of the world; witness the public rituals of burning bodies on the banks of the Ganges in India, and I have seen how other cultural beliefs and traditions ensure death is very much a part of everyday life. These experiences have shown me that death is not only natural, but not always something to be feared. Sometimes death and dying can even be peaceful or long awaited – albeit undeniably and universally sad.

Seeing how other cultures celebrate life and witness death in a much more inclusive and community supported way has made me acutely aware of the heavy medico-legal model of sustaining life (at all costs) that we have here in Australia. I feel like our culture struggles to prepare, discuss, or plan for a ‘good death’ when it is so much a part of everyone’s reality. It’s a sad fact that seventy percent of Australians who are terminally ill would like to die in their own home, while unfortunately, only fourteen percent get to do so. No matter what your spiritual or religious beliefs I feel we can do it better, and I want to be a part of seeing real change in that area of our rapidly ageing society; through public policy, less controlling legislation, a greater provision of in-home palliative care services and hopefully through community education and development. 

I am extremely fortunate to have scored a position at an adult public hospital as my first Placement. It will be a full time (four days a week), unpaid position that starts on Monday. There will be little time for anything else as I will need to work the remaining three days of the week to pay my bills and save a little. In other words, zero time for wandering and socialising – but all worth it in the big scheme of things. Andrés will continue to work hard as well of course, and our plans to head to Colombia for a holiday in late June will definitely be the carrot for all our efforts. 

It’s nice to be feeling that familiar combination of excitement and nerves about it all, the same feeling you get when you’re about to visit a new destination; an understanding that nothing will ever be quite the same after experiencing someplace new. No doubt I will be heavily moved by people’s individual stories, as well as changed by the learning that will come from navigating a hospital environment and the different types of people that work there. I will also need to learn to separate such an intense role with my personal life, but I hope, that through a better understanding of death and dying, and being able to help in some small way, that I will have a renewed sense of life. I imagine that I will have a greater appreciation of what really matters in the here and now for most people, in a world that I often find dominated by consumerism and social disconnection. Overall, I feel excited to see, learn, and be emotionally moved by the reality of life on a daily basis.

With all of that in mind I want to wish all my lovely university friends who are also going on Placement a smooth, enriching and wonderful ‘adventure’!


Man lives as if he is never going to die, and then he dies having never really lived – Dalai Lama

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Getting our art fix at the Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art 8


For visitors to Australia, it is impossible not to see how heavily neighbouring countries influence our food, our culture and in many ways, our appreciation of art. As part of a larger Asian Pacific community, with about a quarter of our population born overseas, the ‘face’ of our Australian society can’t be simplified with a description of one look; nor can the diversity of contemporary art styles within our region be easily generalised.

Luckily for us, Brisbane gets to host the incredible Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art every three years, and this year it is on again. Beginning in 1993, the eighth and latest incarnation is known as APT8, an exhibition space that chooses to celebrate the creative influence of traditional difference within our region in a truly accessible and public format. Displayed in both the Gallery of Modern Art and the nearby Queensland Art Gallery, art lovers can get their creative kicks for free.

APT8 emphasises the role of performance in recent art, with live actions, video, kinetic art, figurative painting and sculpture. All with the aim of exploring the use of the human form to express cultural, social and political ideas, as well as valuing the central role of artists in articulating experiences specific to their culture and country.


APT8 includes more than 80 artists and groups, an ongoing program of artist performances and projects, a lengthy cinema program, and a seemingly endless activities schedule to occupy kids and families. The children’s ever-developing, glow in the dark art space is particularly cool.

For those that can’t make it to Brisbane for the exhibition I’ve added some images from my favourite pieces; the air-conditioned, architectural spaces almost as appealing as the artwork on a sweaty Summer’s day. And for those curious about the history of APT you might like this, or a link to our blog from the last one – APT7.

Here’s hoping you can make it there – it’s on until April 10!


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Photodump: Chinatown, Singapore

DSC_0795Singapore has an awesome Chinatown, set within a backdrop of colourful colonial architecture, a thriving market and some very chatty locals. Chinese Singpaoreans are totally up for a game of regular mahjong if you show enough interest. There’s also a temple housing a tooth relic of Buddha that glows with hundreds of statues in his honour.

If I’d have timed my visit properly I could have happily eaten and relaxed my way around the endless food stalls, restaurants, traditional Chinese medicine practitioners and spa centres. Take an appetite and time for a massage. Kris

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