Canberra duo opening Cafe Stepping Stone in Cartagena, Colombia

With its brightly coloured buildings, cobble-stoned streets and balconies strewn with lush purple and pink bougainvillea, the Colombian city of Cartagena is a far cry from Australia’s bush capital. Nevertheless, two young Canberrans, Tom Navakas and Vanessa Brettell, are preparing to pack their backpacks and venture off on the South American trip of a lifetime.

Their goal is simple yet ambitious: armed with hard earned savings and street smarts gained from years of travel, Navakas and Brettell plan to open a not-for-profit cafe in the heart of Cartagena’s bustling old town.

Vanessa Brettell and Tom Navakas who are heading to Columbia to open a not-for-profit cafe dedicated to buidling menus ...

Vanessa Brettell and Tom Navakas who are heading to Columbia to open a not-for-profit cafe dedicated to buidling menus …

Navakas and Brettell have been joined at the hip since childhood, living around the corner from each other and attending the same primary school. Navakas remembers Brettell’s fascination with Latin America beginning at a young age, following a short stint living in Mexico with her family.

From an early age, Navakas found himself in the grips of a culinary obsession that has lasted a lifetime.

“I was always in the kitchen at home, or in hospitality classes in school, or doing different cooking courses around town, chopping and baking and trying different recipes,” he said.

As a teenager, Navakas took on a part time job at Deakin’s cafe D’Lish, where he perfected the art of cake-making. While he enjoyed satisfying his customers’ sweet teeth, he soon realised that his fascination with cooking had transcended the kitchen and evolved into a curiosity about behind-the-scenes management. After graduating high school, Navakas went on to study a double degree in business administration and management at the University of Canberra.

Like Navakas, Brettell spent her young adulthood pursuing her passions. She recently finished university as the first graduate of the Australian National University’s fledgling Latin American Studies Bachelors degree. As part of her studies, Brettell completed a semester studying abroad at Universidad de los Andes in Bogotá, Colombia.

Although culturally rich and naturally beautiful, Colombia is deeply troubled. Beset by devastating socioeconomic inequality, a large proportion of Colombia’s populace lives in poverty, leaving many vulnerable to the systematic…