Prepping up for modeling

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At the beach at 5.30am on a Saturday. Photo: Mike Knott.

I cancelled my Spanish lesson on Saturday. And I haven’t booked again, although I should. I went to the beach at 5.30am that day for a fashion shoot, because I needed pics for an application.

There’s a modelling comp on the Gold Coast in two weeks.

I entered a comp two years ago, the same one really, and afterwards I vowed to tone up and change my diet. But that was about six weeks before I flew to Peru until further notice, and for a while I stuck to some exercise and protein foods. But the alcohol was too much, and by the time I had a full time job as a teacher, I gave up the gym.

I’m back, and have been for seven months, and I’d say I’ve been in a stable environment in my own unit for four months, and three months going to the gym. When I found out about the modelling comp two weeks ago I decided to ditch the alcohol, the dairy, the processed carbs and sugar, and increase my protein.

It’s been difficult but I’ve gained more from gym sessions. But sometimes it’s hard to know if I’ve replaced one obsession (Peru, and then spanish learning), with another one. I probably have, and this time, I tend to get drained easily and exhausted because of a low sugar level. And so, I really had nothing left to give with a successful Spanish lesson.

On Sunday I saw the pictures. And I was unhappy. The photos of posing in the water weren’t me. I had no abs, and there wasn’t much tone on my chest either. I was skinny, but not muscular. I’m okay, but I felt this discouragement as I laid in my bed that night, thinking, “what’s the point? Why am I doing this when I really won’t be ready, there won’t be much of a difference by the time of the competition”.

I went to work the next day, and then I cleaned the house, swept and mopped because I had a house inspection the next day (today). I waited in a chair because I’d mopped the floor and was trapped. And when it was dry I took off for the gym and went another round.

And suddenly, it happened, although it wasn’t really sudden because it had been happening for a few weeks. The program my once-off personal trainer made for me was actually doable. I would have to spend extra time on some exercises, and stop halfway through sets, but there I was, getting through them. And there was a difference in my strength compared to a month ago, and according to what I had written down.

And this in itself, the gaining this strength, was an accomplishment. I walked out of the gym feeling proud, and feeling like a muscleman in my mind, and even seeing myself as one. It didn’t matter then, at that moment, as to how I would look to others in two weeks time.

How to find your way in a new Peruvian city

Every hostel that I have been to, or most of them anyway, seems to have a token pet. A mascot, if you will. This playful little critter is in a hostel in Yurimaguas.

One of my favourite things to do while travelling on my own is to plunge myself into a new city, preferably one that doesn’t collectively speak my language, and try to figure out what to do.

It’s a puzzle and depending on the circumstances, can be more difficult than at other times.

Am I walking in strange streets during a tropical storm? 

I don’t know where my hostel is. 

I don’t have internet, or my phone is out of battery. 

I don’t have a hostel to go to. 

It’s getting late at night and I’m still figuring it out. 

It’s bloody great. I’ve learned to love the feeling of anxiety, and it really tests me when I think, sometimes, ‘I could be in real trouble here.’

Okay, so the first thing I do is:

1) I take a taxi or a moto to the Plaza De Armas. Everything I could need is there even if it is expensive. There’s always a restaurant, a chemist, a nice photo opportunity, and a place to get coffee and access to Wi Fi.

But just as importantly to do this, is I get a sense of direction and a feel of what the city is like.

2) The next thing I try to do, no matter how hungry I might be, is to find my hostel or hotel and to check-in. I prefer to walk if I can, so that I can get a sense of what a place is like. I’m hyper-alert and sensitive to the looks around me, and these looks from the locals tell me everything I need about the place.

Are people nervous or relaxed? How do they treat their personal belongings? Do they feel safe enough to take out their phones or cameras for photographs? Are the streets clean? Are people content with what they have, or is there a desperation or greed for your money? Do they project a sense that the foreigner owes them something?


3) I usually have a rough idea of the place before I reach my hostel, but depending on the appearance, can be harder on the place than is fair, at first.

The best way to find a hostel is through the app or website ‘Hostel World’ and it rarely fails me. There is a ranking system for each hostel which gives you an idea of what to expect, which takes into account security, cleanliness, staff friendliness, and the value for money.

As I continued my travels in the Amazon, for the first time ever for me, I stopped getting available hostels on the app. I had to resort to ‘Lonely Planet’s’ guide of Peru. This guide made it harder to gauge a hostel compared to the app, but it certainly was an adventure and gave good representation of what price I could expect to pay.

I found one hostel the guide book offered, down along the mud of a riverbank, and I went there and I stared at the shack on stilts. The book described it as rustic. “Nope, no way,” I thought, but then I realised I had nowhere else to go. And the place was actually better looking on the inside.

4) After checking in I will look for a place to eat, and then check my guidebook for any city landmarks or museums if it’s early enough in the day. I’ll wait until the following day to see the sites further out.

If locations are exhausted I might stock up at the local market, or shop or take photos (usually just on my phone at that stage) or drink a beer or two while using social media, or even take clothes to a laundry if I’m going to be around for two days or more.

5) As soon as I have eaten I will try to plan how I can leave to my next destination. I usually know a few days ahead which direction I’ll probably take. For example, in Tarapoto I know I will want to visit Yurimaguas, the river port into the upper Amazon. How do I get there and when do I leave?

Travelling to Peru’s Tarapoto

A view of a back section of Tarapoto. 

The trouble with travelling without knowing the local language is not knowing what is happening as things are going on. You can only sense and adjust to the reaction.

I always hate stopping in Chiclayo (770 km north of Lima). I haven’t been there, really, except for at the bus station. The bus needs to refill and this one took almost 90 minutes and I kept feeling I must have missed the call to get back on.

I thought the bus to Tarapoto would take 24 hours from Trujillo. When we stopped after 21 hours, in the early afternoon, and when everyone left, I had to ask in clumsy Spanish if we were in Tarapoto. We were.

The hostel room that I stayed in. 

Moto drivers wouldn’t give me time to breathe. They offered a ride but I needed to think up my plan. I finally took a ride to the Plaza De Armas (town centre) and walked from there to my hostel El Mural. For 35 Soles a night I had a private ensuite with a desk, which was good value for what I later received in my travels.

*This blog is the beginning of a collection of journal entries of my three week trip through the north east of Peru. 

A teacher’s day in Peru

7.00am: I spent my first night in my new place in the northern Peruvian city of Trujillo. I do not know where my new place is in the city, so my landlord walks me to my school. It takes only 10 minutes. What complicates matters is I know limited Spanish, while he doesn’t know English.

I arrive at school just in time to hear loud clangs of cowbells. “Happy teacher’s day!” the school’s psychologists shout as I walk through the gates. I really need a coffee.

New Spanish word acquired: Cruzar 

7.30-8am: I have made myself a coffee (with instant which I’ve stashed in my locker for such emergencies. The school has a ‘House’ system named after American presidents. I am in Kennedy House.

Team Kennedy has organised greeting students at the gates with a banner, gifts for our primary school mates, and our mascot ‘Sully’ from Monsters Inc. It takes me ages to realise who is in the mascot suit and I don’t really want to know.


New Spanish word acquired: Mascota

8am-10.55am: Today is an unusual day, in that it is the first day of exams. This means regular classes are cancelled while the exams are on. Teachers are scheduled to supervise the exams. I do not have to teach or supervise during the math exam. I ensure my paperwork is complete, and I also mark students’ notebooks.

10.55am-12.15pm: The siesta is over. I now have to supervise grade 10 in their business exam. Students either arrive late to class, ignore my instructions to sit down and put their books away, or ask to use the bathroom.

“Why didn’t you do it in the break?” I ask.  I order students to sit before returning to my strike-candy score system. If students have five strikes we practice dictation exercises, and if they have five candy points at the end of class then I give them candy from my candy jar.

Students quickly get to their seats after one girl rolls her eyes and puts a finger to her head. “Bang”, she whispers.

Students finally settle down but they need help from the business teacher, who undoubtedly is working her way through all the classes. Finally she arrives and I bribe her with candy so she can see our class first.

It turns out I am mentioned in the exam. “Mr. Burns wants to stay in Peru forever! But he is a little confused because the banking system is different in Australia. Where should he put his money? A bank or a caja?”

Students find this funny.

When one student hands me her completed exam, I ask, “did you give me good advice?”


“Am I going to be broke? Or am I going to be rich?”

“Probably broke.”

Another student asks, “are you really going to stay in Peru?”


“Will you be teaching here again next year?”

I use the time to receive some important feedback. “That depends,” I say seriously. “Would you like me to return next year.”

“Yes,” she said looking at the candy jar next to me. “If that comes back.”

New Spanish word acquired: Caja

12.15pm-2pm: I have a break for a while because Thursday is normally my quietest days. I use this time to plan what my lessons are going to be like during exam week. Teaching will prove tricky. I won’t teach all classes, and it’s not appropriate to teach heavy or new content between exams. I consider roleplaying exercises for some classes.

It’s teacher’s day the next day but we will have that time off. Instead, we will be celebrating with designated classes from 2pm. One of my students finds me and she gives me a box of chocolates as a gift.

2pm: I arrive to my designated class where cakes and biscuits are being prepared by students and some of their mothers. I take a seat and as food is being passed around, students give us some speeches. Many students that give a speech don’t address me because they prefer to speak in Spanish, but those that I do understand are lovely and encouraging.

“When you first arrived we thought, ‘oh no, another native speaker, we aren’t going to understand a thing’,” one student said. “But instead, we have learned so much, even when you think we are really bored. And you try to make the classes dynamic and interesting.”

Spanish words acquired: The difference between torta and keke

3pm: Teachers gather for their own assembly once the students leave. We collect awards and certificates  and have a glass of wine while we wait. My friends and colleagues stand one at a time to receive their awards.


5pm: Everyone has left for the day. I mark the notebooks from students and return the books to the classrooms so students can find them first thing on Monday. I am extremely happy with one student’s response to ‘was dropping the atomic bomb on Japan justified? Why or why not?” Most students didn’t bother completing that question for homework. This student receives a gold star from my sticker collection. I rarely give those ones out. I tidy my locker and then I walk home with my laptop and my passport. At some point I am lost but I don’t stop for my phone. I feel rather vulnerable in these new streets during this time of the day. But eventually I find my door. My landlords give me a coffee and some bread and cheese, and we talk in Spanish (as best as I can). I go to my room and fall asleep before 7.30pm.

Spanish word acquired:  Caminar



Yo aprendiendo Espanol

Tratare de escribir este blog en espanol con poca traduccion de Google. 

I will try to write this blog in Spanish with little Google translation.

Mi espanol no es bien. Es malo. 

My Spanish is not good. It is bad.

Quiero escribe mejor. 

I want to write better.

Es dificil.

It is difficult.

Es un problema mi espanol es limitado. 

It is a problem that my Spanish is limited.

Hablar con la gente es complicado. 

Talking to people is tricky.

Yo amor musica. Latino musica es bien. Yo gusta Soda Stereo, Charly Garcia, y Andres Calamaro.

I love music. Latin music is good. I like Soda Stereo, Charly Garcia, and Andres Calamaro.

Yo vivo en Huanchaco.










“You can make it on a wish”

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My bus stop.

TODAY was the day.

I wasn’t sure it was going to happen, the moment where I know moving to Peru was the right thing for me. Until today I had my doubts. I didn’t quite belong. I lost my self-esteem in a strange world away from my former position and possessions while somehow keeping the ego and pride.

Pride. So much pride.

“Pride: What I think you think about me. Self-esteem: what I think about myself. Personal relationships: the script I give others.” -Russell Brand, Recovery

I was on the bus to work this morning listening to my Ipod. Before spilling coffee on my shirt I listened to a song that’s been on my Itunes almost two years which I somehow overlooked. Goo Goo Dolls hasn’t interested me since I listened to Iris in City of Angels (Nick Cage as an angel who falls in love with a mortal.) and their 2016 Boxes album felt cheesy, artificial and empty in its commercialism filled with poignant titles such as Prayer in my Pocket. That’s how I had overlooked this song.

“For the first time I feel like someone
Breaking down the walls in my own mind
Keeping my faith for the bad times
Get up, get up, stand like a champion
Take it to the world………you can make it on a wish if you want to.”

-So Alive, by Goo Goo Dolls

And as I was listening to this song I had a moment. A moment of happiness looking out the bus and feeling the best part of myself. There was a glow within. I had the spark.


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The sun rises over the mountains as I stare out the bus with my coffee and while listening to my music.

My translator at work has been teaching me basic Spanish. Today she helped me with the alphabet, which was the advice of blogger Collins, who commented on a recent post of mine.

“The basics as you of course know, and that is so boring, yet it’s so essential, is to practice the Spanish ABC/vowels and consonants each and every day as the sound/melody of a language is so crucial in learning and speaking it,” Collins said.

I never bothered learning the Spanish alphabet, which is rather deceptive in that I assumed it was the same as the English alphabet. “Thank goodness for that,” I thought. The problem is some letters are pronounced differently.

G seems to be more like the ‘he’ in hello. H seems to be silent at the start of a word. J is…what the heck is J? In my notes I’ve spelled my pronounciation as ‘Hawta’.


I suppose being in a reflective mood, and possibly still a little self-absorbed, I wondered something today. I’ll be here for at least a year. What do I need to learn in that time? What is it I need to take away from my time in Peru?’


Missing family in a foreign country


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A very old and outdated pic with the bros and sis. 

It has been more than three years since I have seen my family. Part of the reason for that is the isolation and the expense that comes living in rural Australia.

It’s also partly my fault given that my own mum wanted to see me before I flew from Brisbane to Peru. I thought it would make it harder seeing her before I left for South America.

I missed my family anyway. Not at first but as the weeks become months I find myself reflecting more on what has shaped my attitudes and values.

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Christmas photos are always weird when it comes to Aaron and I (I’m the one without the knife). 

I have barely spoken to my sister for a while but she made me a playlist for Christmas which I listen to often. And she said that I had always influenced her musical tastes with all the mix CDs I used to make her (think Christian rock metal like TFK and Stryper and Switchfoot, combined with Guitar Hero playlists, and songs used for TV shows. As the years went on these were more likely to be British rock lists. The Who’s Baba O’Riley would have made an appearance, as would have The Clash and The Wombats).

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Another old pic. This one is of my sister owning me at ice-skating. Go, Little Lion Girl! 

But her musical tastes have grown in the late teens and so I listen to her music she chose for me, and I’m proud to now be influenced by her. She stumbled onto a song that I listened to in one of my earliest memories in life. In my memory I’m in the bathtub in the last days of my parents’ relationship and the song ‘You Can Call Me Al’ is playing. I never could figure out the name of the song.

I read this and wonder how I relate to my experience living in Peru – besides recording the fact I miss my family in a foreign country. I suppose it comes back to language.

I exaggerate when I say that I haven’t seen any of my family in three years. Before I flew from Brisbane I saw my cousin Mekaela. It’s only when I hugged her that I realised it had been so long since I had seen her or anyone else. She reads my blog but that’s not why I say what I’m about to say. She’s an inspiration in that she’s independent, younger, has the same resources I do (not many) and has already traveled and worked overseas. She lived in Brazil a while and so was able to give me some advice while we drank expensive inner-city coffee.

“It will take three months living in a foreign country before you know basic Spanish. That may not seem like a long time but it will be,” she said.

It’s nearly the three month milestone and I wonder how many words I have learned. There’s not many. It’s enough to get me by awkwardly in an American style supermarket or the restaurants, as long as the conversation doesn’t deviate from the regular pattern.

“Hamburguesa Y papas fritas. Y Cafe Con Leche. Por Favor.”


“Que? Ah. Si. Burnzy. Gracias, Senora.”


But the other night leaving a restaurant something happened that deviated from the norm. The waitress chased me down the street to try to explain something about the two 5 soles coins I handed her. I asked if she wanted more money. “Mas Soles?”

“No. fsakldjfs winaosidnfds oiansdfsdf  ionasdf alns lkasdfask.”

“Ah. No comprende.”

“sisdifklfnds flkandfkldsfn oiandflkdsnf landfklsnnd.”

Luckily there was a Google translator handy so that eventually she could explain to me the coins I gave her were fake. I had spare coins fortunately. Yet the coins looked so convincing. “A foreigner giving fake coins is bad,” the waitress warned before she left.

I’ve wondered why it is that my cousin could learn so much in three months compared to me. And my Mum explained a possibility.

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A cousin, and my very beautiful and young mum hold fat-baby me. 

“Maybe it’s because she was on her own in a foreign country and didn’t have anyone to speak English with,” she said. “And you have housemates you speak English to all the time.”

And there’s truth to that.

People and their creatures


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There are some days with no expectations tied to them that contain the best moments. Such a case happened the day after my birthday.

It began painfully as I was in a class on how to teach English all day while enduring a birthday hangover. But then I took some photographs across town including up at the lighthouse. The people here in Zorritos love having their photographs taken. I was concerned that it might be frowned upon. Not at all! They do like being asked though.

I took photographs of a football game that children were playing. They saw the camera, stopped the game and posed! The referee was smiling while trying to get the kids to keep playing.  I also captured a photograph of a surfer returning to his motorcab.


There’s a cheap burger place called Trota Mundo where you can grab an excellent Pollo burger for six soles. It is in a beautiful wooden building that looks almost like a tree house. The company and conversation were fantastic that night and so was the music playing in the background. Iris by Goo Goo Dolls, and Wonderwall (Oasis) played from a speaker near our table outside. The laughs grew when the waitress-owner came out to tell us something in Spanish.

The best Spanish speaker (Guy) hadn’t arrived yet so we tried to bluff our way through understanding. The woman grabbed her phone to translate what she meant and this is what came up. Nicola - translation.jpg

We laughed so much.

Poor creatures 😦

And I also feel sorry for the woman because she didn’t know why we were laughing. It turns out she wanted to know what sauce we wanted on our burgers.

Beers, and more beers. And after those beers Nicola, Guy, Amy and I walked back to our villa and bought beer on the way and drank it. At the hotel bar we brought out a pack of cards and we stayed up until 2am playing Bullshit.

It turns out I’m a terrible liar but what is also unfortunate is I have a tendency to shout ‘bullshit!’ when I’m losing in a game when I’m drunk. But it doesn’t mean I’m accusing someone of cheating, which is what I’m doing in this game when I say ‘bullshit.’

…Some of it in Spanish


Locals are shaking my hand and saying “Feliz cumpleaños.” I’m not quite sure what that means but given their smiles I think I might have done something right for a change.

This is a lie. I know what it means. It’s my birthday and I’m 28-years-old now. I used to dream of making it into the 27 club but I like living and I’m not famous. Still, I can cross one more thing off my bucket list. I managed to use the combination of ‘Lo Siento, Gringo idiota.’

I’m sorry, this Gringo is an idiot.

I ran out of money on my birthday so a  South African by the name of Adriaan and I hired a taxi to a hotel to take out some cash at the ATM. Our driver didn’t know any English but on the return trip back to mine I tried to make conversation. We sat in the front, silent, and it was awkward. I didn’t know what I could say.

Then I thought, ‘yes I could’. Como Estas (how are you?).

Saying this did a good thing and a bad thing. The good thing was the taxi driver started talking a lot. The bad thing was the taxi driver started talking a lot. Who would have thought people would talk when you asked them how they were? (come to think of it, when is the last time I’ve asked someone that in English?)

The highway through Zorritos. A motorcab drives towards us.

I couldn’t understand him. No Comprende, I said. Lo Siento, I said. I don’t understand. I’m sorry. (That’s all I seem to say these days in Peru. Much like it was the time I was in my last relationship. But shhh).

He pointed at himself. “Peru!” he said.

It clicked. “I am Christopher from Australia!” I said.

“South Africa!” Adriaan said from the back.

“Ah! Australiano. South Africano.” Then the driver said a bunch of other stuff which didn’t help much. The South African at the back gave me his phone app translator but somehow I couldn’t get it to work and I kept holding it to the driver’s face. He kept nervously staring at the narrow road and the motocabs on it while at the same time checking the phone quickly.

I gave up. And then I said it.

“Lo Siento. Gringo idiota!”

There was silence. Then the taxi driver laughed loud. There was a sparkle in his eyes and when we arrived at the hotel, and paid the man, the driver shook my hand and said, Buenas Tardes, Christopher.” And even though I had paid him a lot more than we probably should have, there was a glow in my heart. The sort of glow that comes from teasing yourself to make the world a better place, probably.

Another point I wish to make is that I’m starting to wonder if this blog  should be called ‘awkward conversations with Burnzy (and some of them in Spanish!).

Nah, but seriously. If it was a cooking blog, I’d call it ‘Cooking with Burns’. (Get it? Because my last name is Burns and I suck at cooking). And if it was a dating/sex advice blog, it would be ‘a night in Burns.’ So, we’ll try out ‘awkward conversations with Burnzy (and a little more action please).


La Playa

DSC_3503.JPGMy feet are in the sand as I stare out to the horizon in the early morning. There is an oil rig in the distance just where my eyes might gaze into nothingness. I see the flames above the water. Fire in the sky.

On the land to my right is a lighthouse on a hill. It’s striped like a pedestrian crossing and it stands out in the colours of brown of the land, and the faded whitewashed blues and shades of the ocean and the sand.

This is ‘La Playa.’

This is the beach.

Smoke carries a faint smell. Animals wander with a strange sense of purpose. Horses trot along dusty lanes and dogs jog past with grins and a odd lack of guilt I associate with liberated pets. When they stop to stare at the landscape they pretend I don’t exist. An occasional person jogs along the shore or stands in the water like I do. Like anywhere La Playa is the place to be in the morning. It carries no  morning rush but that of the waves.

If La Playa was sentient it would have witnessed much of my experience here. It has played a part in everything in Zorritos just by sight and sound.

I stand there with my feet in the water which tries to grip me, pull the sand away, and take me with it. I am free. Then I get back to doing my push-ups.


When I return to the villa I have a breakthrough with the Spanish language and it comes from my host, Flavio. As I practice my language with two dogs on the lawn, he tries to explain in Spanish what I’m doing wrong. “No,” he said. “Espanol, Inglish, different.” He pointed at his throat. “Inglish.” Then he pointed at his mouth and grimaced as he said “gracias”.

“Espanol, boca (mouth).”

And when I finally understood what he said, the r came out a bit better when I forced the words through my lips quickly rather than by making the noises in my throat.

I share the villa with three others. Amy, Barbara, and Guy. They joined me and Flavio brought our fried eggs one by one. “I read your blog this morning,” Amy said in her strong Canadian accent (on that note undoubtedly two Canadians and a Kiwi think my Aussie drawl is heavy). “It was good.”

I do not like egg but I forced myself to eat some. As I was halfway through I had enough. “Do you want it?” I asked Guy, and Barbra said, “no, you’re nearly there, eat it”.

“But I’m up to the..ergh…yellow part.”

“That’s the best bit!”

And they gave me El Diablo sauce and I put some on the rest of the egg and I forced it down, while the waves crashed in the distances. Dogs barked. The spicy sauce helped as I focused on the burn on my tongue rather than on taste.

It was the first full cooked egg I’ve eaten in my life. I told the others.

“Are you going to put this in your blog?” they teased. “You should!”

So I did.