Searching for Sea Dragons in Tasmania – Wandering

Another excerpt from Wandering (published June 2014):

I had one more week until I was supposed to meet Shanti and her family in Cambodia, so I decided to check out Tasmania.

When I was planning, I asked Kawika and Scotty about it, and neither of them had ever been there, nor knew anyone who had been there (which immediately prompted me to resupply my tampon stash while still in the city, I was traveling into unknown territory again). I hadn’t even known it was an Australian state until I started researching. I emailed a scuba company that promised sea dragons and set up a dive, so that was where I reserved a hotel room. All the hostels were sold out, again, and the hotel in Hobart was officially the most expensive place I have ever stayed. Stupid holidays.

As I flew into Hobart, I realized that I hadn’t done any proper research. I was looking for sea dragons and nature; in my mind I saw mountains and lakes and rivers, adventures and surf and scuba. It never occurred to me that I was going to the capital city of one of the Australian states. A big, horrible city.

I was the last drop-off for the hotel shuttle, so I got a small tour of the city. I felt like I was in downtown Seattle, not the small beach towns and backwoods laziness that I envisioned. And I had to walk several blocks from my hotel to find a Wi-Fi connection at a pub. I really need to learn how to properly research destinations.

According to my emails with Sue at Underwater Adventures, sea dragons lived in the harbors around Hobart. On my first morning in town I was supposed to meet her at the docks at 7:45, along with one other woman who was equally excited to find them. I arrived at the dock at 7:40, early as usual, and Georgina got there at 7:43. We waited, made small talk, waited more, and no boat. Finally, Sue motored up at 8:20; apparently a cruise ship motored past while she was loading tanks and the wake knocked two of them overboard and she had to dive for them. A shaky start to the day.

The boat wasn’t very well-kept; it was kind of messy with stuff everywhere, with six tanks sort of bungeed to the sides, but Sue was nice. She didn’t have any crew so she wasn’t going to dive with us, which immediately annoyed both Georgina and me. It’s way easier to find things underwater with someone who’s been there before. Getting directions in Cairns for a colony of clownfish was bad enough; now we had to locate an animal that looks like kelp in darker water.

We travelled 50 minutes to our first site at Betsey Island. The sky was grey and rainy and the wind was picking up. There were dozens of crayfish pots in the area where Sue wanted to drop anchor, so it took us a while to settle in. She gave me a selection of 7 millimeter wetsuits, all of them covered in dog hair. They probably would be comfy to sleep on. After trying a few, I finally found one that fit, which meant I could fasten it properly and still manage to breathe a little. I was worried that in darker water a tight wetsuit might make me feel claustrophobic and I’d freak out, but I continued getting ready – boots, hood, gloves, and 32 pounds of weights. I could barely move. Georgina was using a dry suit; Sue didn’t have one in my size. It took us an hour to gear up for the first dive.

Then came the moment I was dreading – touching the water. It was 16 degrees Celsius. In a 7-millimeter wetsuit, it still felt like 16 degrees. It was fucking cold. Like getting wrapped in ice, then buried in snow. Then stabbed in the head with icicles. I couldn’t remember ever being that cold in my life. Every time I turned my head to look around, some water would channel straight down my back. I just kept telling myself that I was doing this for a good purpose: sea dragons.

The visibility was around five meters in the greenish water. The underwater landscape consisted of kelp forests and a lot of strange plants, but I didn’t find many fish. I saw a wrasse, a box cowfish, anemones, starfish, a rockfish, and a couple crabs, but mostly just plants floating back and forth with the current. I was praying for a sea dragon.

“Please, God, let me see one so I don’t ever have to get back in this water. Pretty please? I’ll be good, I promise.”

The first dive lasted 48 minutes and by the end I was shaking uncontrollably, my teeth were chattering, and no sea dragon. Sue kept asking if we saw the felled tree where some live, or the backside of the reef where others are. That was why we had wanted a guide.

We left for the second dive site, the blowhole in Blackman’s Bay. There was no way I could take off my wetsuit between dives, so I put a jacket over it and jumped up and down to try to get warm, but it didn’t work. I ate half a box of Tim-Tams, possibly the greatest chocolate cookie in mass production, thinking that might help. Maybe it was just a good excuse to eat so many.

On the second dive I was cold going in, and thought I would die the moment I hit the water. I vaguely remember wondering if my nipples could cut through a 7 millimeter suit. This dive was a little shallower and I was too floaty; I had to swim back to the boat after 20 minutes for more weights. I was now carrying 38 pounds; the most I’d ever used before was 14. It was good incentive to start working out again; my legs had a hard time standing under the extra weight.

We saw more kelp and more cute cowfish, but it was 48 more minutes of no sea dragons. As we swam back to the boat, Sue yelled that we should try one more time a little further down, maybe swim until we have about 40 bar of air left. Obviously, sea dragons were way more important than following strict PADI dive rules. We dove back down on the other side of the reef for a total dive time of 63 minutes with no sea dragons. I was pretty sure my fingertips were going to break off.

I was told that we were only doing two dives, and although I was upset that we didn’t find a sea dragon, I was OK with getting dried off. The weather had gotten worse and the sun hadn’t come out all day; it was just windy and rainy. All I could think about was a hot shower and obscene amounts of food.

But Sue felt bad and suggested a third dive. Georgina gave the decision to me since I was the coldest, but not by much since her drysuit had a small leak. I came all this way to Tasmania, was half-frozen, and I’d probably never make it back. Another 20 minutes wouldn’t kill me. Sue’s rationale was that the first site gets battered by storms, the second site had a bunch of spear divers a few days ago, but the third site never gets much traffic. And that was when Georgina got pissed. Imagine an older, shorter, English housewife getting really angry. But I agreed with her. Why did we go to the crappy sites first, especially when the pristine site was only 15 minutes from the dock?

The third site was Boronia Beach. Sue was begging us to dive just a little while, even though one tank only had 100 bar and Georgina had to use her tank from the last dive. We decided to go for 20 minutes or until one of us had no air left. By then we had left PADI standards far behind. I think Sue felt bad because she usually gets in the water with the divers and can find the sea dragon hangouts; maybe her crew called in sick, but this wasn’t a great day for diving. I had been carrying my camera and decided to leave it on the boat for the last dive since it wasn’t doing anything but wearing down the battery.

Sue dropped us at the edge of a reef with instructions, “Go in here where you can see the reef, swim with it on your left; if you go around that corner into the other bay that’s OK, I’ll follow your bubbles from the boat.” Georgina and I swam, freezing. I started thinking that I really was going to die, then OH MY GOD A SEA DRAGON!

It was the weirdest animal I’ve ever seen in my life. It had a snout like a seahorse, a fat little body with teensy, fluttery, useless-looking fins, and a long tail that started off fat and tapered to very skinny. It was a male, carrying eggs. In total, it was about 14 inches long, and every color in the crayon box. The sun had just come out, and every time he moved, different body parts turned different colors in the light. He had two lumps on his head that looked like horns, and two long side fins that just dangled and looked like kelp. There was another set of tiny, fluttery fins where I thought his ears should go. The overall impression was like a flying elephant with a couple tinker-bell wings. Totally ridiculous.

And of course, I didn’t have my camera. I signaled to Georgina that I was going to the boat and I’d be right back. I sprinted in my 7 millimeter wetsuit. By the time I got back I was so out of breath that I had to float on the surface trying to breathe; my suit was too tight for a proper breath. But there was a sea dragon, so I went down anyway.

Georgina and I spent 25 minutes watching him. He just swam back and forth between a couple big rocks and showed off for us, like he was on a sea dragon catwalk. I completely forgot that I was cold.

Watch the seadragon on YouTube.

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Croc at Ambergris Caye

An almost-a-Darwin-Award crocodile adventure

Recently I published an excerpt from my book about a crocodile adventure in Belize.  You can find it here: crocodile blog post: One of my favorites.

Upon rereading the post, I remembered that I still had the video from the encounter.  I was upset at the time because my hands were shaking so badly that the video is nearly unwatchable.  But now I think it’s funny.  I can’t remember ever being so scared in my life and you can tell when you watch the video.  I was slowly backing away from the crocodile and thought that I should have something recorded to show John’s wife if he didn’t make it back… And a possible Darwin Award entry.

Thankfully, John was fine.  He is so fearless that the crocodile was probably scared of him.

The video showing just how chicken I really am:

Almost-a-Darwin-Award croc adventure on Ambergris Caye


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Croc at Ambergris Caye

Croc at Ambergris Caye




My first driving experience in Cuba

This excerpt is from my first driving experience in Cuba.  Driving there turned out to be a very stressful task without directions…


After talking with the German couple about how easy it was to drive around Cuba we decided on renting a car. We went to several rental agencies called Cubicar, all the same but with different pricing. We found the best price at a large hotel in Old Havana. It was pretty straightforward, but Gina argued about everything; I thought the salesman was going to kick us out. But she had spent the day angry about lunch, our host family, basically everything. She wasn’t afraid to tell people she was upset, which I liked about her.

We finally got our car, a generic blue four-seater, but we had no road map. That was another argument Gina had with the rental guy, which lasted for quite some time, but didn’t help us at all. Eventually, one of the men drew us a map to the autopista and we went home to collect our things and get on the road.

It was about 4 p.m. at this point, and we had to say goodbye to the people in our building, which took close to forever. One woman, Clara, with whom we made arrangements to spend our last night before flying home, wanted to introduce us to everyone who was currently staying in her apartment, and after too much small talk and very little understanding, it was 5:30 before we could leave. Our first destination was Viñales, about four hours away. We had no map and the sun was setting in two hours. I’m not certain why we thought it was a good idea to leave at that point.

But leave we did, with total fanfare from the apartment building. We agreed that I would drive and Gina would navigate. Almost from the start it was “slow down,” “watch the bikes,” “careful;” she was a classic backseat driver. I was surprised at how well I was driving given that it had been so long, and I finally had to tell her to relax, and just tell me where to go. Driving through Havana was a little crazy, but not nearly as bad as Mexico City or anywhere else where everyone owned a car. The first thing I noticed was that there were no street signs anywhere – no direction, no arrows, nothing. We followed the man’s hand-drawn map and everything seemed to be going well. Some roundabouts, a tunnel – we drove and drove and I was quite happy.

We entered a small town with no cars – everyone rode bikes or horses – and that was when I started to wonder where we were. The sun was setting and I thought, “Ok, we’re going south, I think that’s good.” But it turned out that Viñales wasn’t south. Then the road turned into a dirt track. “I don’t think this is the autopista,” I said. We drove through a muddy pothole the size of our car. Gina said we needed to follow this road for 24 more kilometers, or until the dead end that was just ahead of us.

It turned out that we weren’t on the autopista at any time. Gina knew this, she told me later, but didn’t tell me an hour earlier when it would have been easy to go back. I just figured that we were in an underdeveloped country and maybe their main highway becomes a dirt road in places. I’d spent months driving on dirt roads.

I turned around and we went back to the small town, and everyone was waving and making signs that we couldn’t understand. I wanted to stop, but Gina believed every person wanted to rob us and refused to let me talk to anyone. Our host family in Havana convinced her that this was true, and that we shouldn’t talk to anyone or pick up hitchhikers either. But I didn’t want to die in the middle of nowhere in Cuba, so I stopped and rolled my window down for the next man yelling at our car. I couldn’t understand a word he said. I pulled up to a gigantic black man who scared Gina more than the first guy, and he told me I was driving the wrong way on a one-way road. That explained the yelling. I wish I understood enough to ask why a town with no cars had one-way streets; that will forever be one of life’s mysteries to me. He used hand signals to direct us back to the main road.

As we searched for the elusive autopista, a gorgeous sunset painted the sky. Unfortunately, that meant darkness soon. We decided to go back to Havana, spend the night, and try again early in the morning. But at night with no signs, we got completely lost. “Have we been past this before?” “Which direction did we come from in the roundabout?” “Where the fuck is the tunnel?!”

After a couple more turnarounds, we found familiar ground – we found the tunnel, we found the glorious ocean on the left-hand side. Gina was almost in tears; I was trying to pretend everything was great, but all the while I was thinking about where a good place to spend the night in a car might be found when we were so lost we couldn’t find Cuba’s biggest city. I had decided that if worse came to worst, I could pull into someone’s driveway and pay them $10 to sleep in the car, but at no point did I find a single place that would be appropriate. I would have settled for slightly sketchy, but we couldn’t even find that.

I truly enjoyed my first driving adventure in Cuba, stressful though it was. Never once during my trip did I imagine I’d be driving across Cuba, so it was definitely a mark in the positive adventure column. We got lost, but I didn’t freak out even though there were no lights anywhere and I had to dodge bikes, walkers, and swerving oncoming traffic. I thought Gina might have a panic attack, so repeating “todo esta bien” over and over helped us both.



About Melissa:
Sylvie Writes a Romance – Book 1 of Sylvie’s Romance
Sylvie Falls in Love – Book 2 of Sylvie’s Romance
Leave a review on Amazon and I’ll love you forever!
Sylvie Writes a Romance on Smashwords – for Nook, Kobo, etc
Sylvie Falls in Love on Smashwords
Recent articles:
From Travel to Romcon and Beyond
Travel Writing on
Recent reviews:
Indie Reader Review for Sylvie Writes a Romance
Kirkus Indie Review for Sylvie Writes a Romance
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For fine art photography prints from the islands, check out the Hawaii Ocean Photography  website and Like the Facebook page


Crocodile hunting in Belize

This is an excerpt from the new book, one of my favorite adventures on the trip.  It took place in Ambergris Caye, Belize.

On my final day, John and I went on a last crocodile expedition, this time to the south side of the island. We heard there was a place to see them just off the side of the road, so we jogged to the water tower. I was dying; that was the farthest I’d run in weeks, and in the blazing sun as well. We took the side roads by the lagoon, and knew we were in the right place when we saw the “do not feed the crocodiles” sign and saw a croc briefly before he went under. Feeding the crocs carried a $1000 fine or six months of jail time, according to the sign.

We didn’t spot any others, so we kept walking until we found a store to get some drinks. I asked where the best place to see them was, and apparently it was right where we were. The store had frozen chicken legs, so we bought a couple pounds and headed back. It was so hot I carried the ice-cold bag of drumsticks on the back of my neck; it was worth the purchase even if we didn’t get to feed the crocs. Police presence on the island was pretty minimal, so we weren’t too worried.

Our plan was to thaw the chicken in the water near the edge so we could break it up, tie the individual legs on long pieces of vine that were growing nearby, and go “fishing” for crocs. We made sure to get off the main road so we wouldn’t be spotted. As we were waiting for the chicken to thaw, a monster crocodile swam up and sat there, staring at us. He was inches from the floating chicken but didn’t seem to know exactly where it was since it was in a patch of sea grass. John picked up a short stick and pushed the chicken legs toward the big crocodile and instantly it lunged and swallowed the legs whole. Probably the scariest thing I’ve ever seen in my life was how fast this thing moved and how many teeth it had. I was a little nervous when it swam up, but after see- ing him move I was terrified.

I really hadn’t considered what would happen if we saw one since we had such bad luck on our first attempt, nor had I considered how frightening they might be. The chicken wrappers and John’s water bottle were sitting on the ground where we left them a few feet from the water, and the croc could smell it. Slowly, he climbed out of the water to investigate the possibility of more chicken, and that was when I got to see his claws. It was a thousand times more terrifying than when he was just sitting in the water. His eyes were tracking every move we made; as we walked around, he shifted his body to keep us in sight. No wonder the authorities didn’t want us to feed them.

The crocodile moved to check out the chicken wrapper but picked up John’s water bottle instead, mashing it several times in his jaws before spitting it out. My level of terror spiked. Terror for me, anyway. I wasn’t sure John was bothered at all. He’d done a lot of crazy things in his life; he was an adrenaline junkie who looked like a school teacher. I’m still not sure exactly how he convinced me crocodile hunting was a good idea, but traveling solo meant mak- ing friends where I could. All I could think about at that time was that moments before, I was holding a partially defrosted chicken and trying to tear the pieces apart, and how much I smelled like the croc’s last snack. I slowly began backing away.

I recovered enough of my wits to turn on my video camera, thinking that if the croc charged John, I’d have some great foot- age for his Darwin Award. The footage is funny only because it’s completely unwatchable from my hands shaking so badly. The croc finally swam off, and as we were walking home I asked John what he would have thought if a crocodile that size had approached us in the kayak the other day. He shrugged, not at all disturbed. I’m glad I didn’t think this idea through very well, or I would have missed a great experience.

Ambergris Caye, Belize

Ambergris Caye, Belize

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Still waiting…

I still have another two weeks to wait for the first proof of my book.  Time crawls by when I’m waiting for something important…


To fill the time, besides surfing, paddling, running, and generally enjoying my summer, I added some new pics to the website; mostly to the Australia and Tasmania section.  More will come soon.  I have hundreds more.

Check em out:


Tasman Peninsula

Tasman Peninsula



just some publishing neuroses

I started writing this new blog to explore the crazy, life-sucking problems of publishing a first book. The actual writing, the editing, the extra proof reading, the alcohol consumption, the thoughts that everything I write sucks and people will laugh, the cover design, the pictures to include, the size of the margins, will someone be pissed off if i don’t thank her in the acknowledgments?…I literally could go on for a week with all the things that are rattling around in my brain.

Do I pass out bookmarks for advertisement? What about postcards? What do I sign at my book signing if someone bought the Kindle version? Will Kindle snobs scoff at bookmarks? Will anyone even come to my book signing?

What do I do with the 400 people signed up to my blog? can’t be a real person. I have 27 followers from What if spam is the only feedback I get? And, is this a worse rejection than the dreaded letter from the publishing house?

If I’m going to properly document my publishing process, I guess that these neuroses, among hundreds of others, need to come out at some point. So I’m getting them out first, before I even begin recounting the actual technical details of publishing.

But back to reality, I now have a completely edited third draft that I will prepare for the final read-through before submitting. OMG what if there’s a typo. Time to let that thought go. Nothing is ever perfect.

unnecessary worry

I met with my editor to go over his changes for the first quarter of my book. I had been dreading our first meeting because I would have to find out what he truly thought of my writing. I think I’m a good writer and kinda funny but obviously I’m biased. so I stressed for days, maybe he’d tell me I needed to burn the book and start over. maybe the pages would be covered with so much red ink it would take me another 9 months to rewrite.
and he finally told me…
…he liked it! a lot! yippee!

I’m much less stressed today as I start my minor rewrites. so happy 🙂

if there is spelling or punctuation errors in this post it’s because I’m trying out blogging from my phone while I wait for paddling practice to start. I get lazy on my phone.

have a great day everyone!


The Book!

Tonight I finished the first edit of the rough draft of my first book.  I fixed all the obvious typos and grammatical errors and it’s time to get it to my editors.  Major milestone has been accomplished.

I always dreamed of writing a book and now I can say that it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.  Not just the actual writing but the endless days of sitting at a computer.  My tan is gone, I’m a bit chubby from lack of exercise, I haven’t had fresh air in months and I’m not sure if my friends remember me.

I promise to spend the next week doing absolutely nothing responsible.  Except for the mandatory make-money-work thing.  But I’ll try to slack there, too.  I’m going to swim and sail and paddle and play and stay out way past my bedtime, and I’m so excited.

I’m having a hard time figuring out why I’m sitting at my computer writing right now.



get out and play!

get out and play!


I’ve been thinking a lot lately about boats.  And dogs.  And pizza, but I’m always thinking about pizza.

It’s probably about time that I start planning my next adventure, and I think it’ll be on a boat.  I’d love to sail wherever I want, maybe pick up friends along the way, find some cool little islands and scuba dive.  I’d have a compressor on my boat so we could just jump in whenever we pleased to see what lives underwater where we are.  Scuba for a while, if it’s good, stay, if not, move on to somewhere else.

That does bring up two obvious problems, though.  I don’t have a boat.  And I don’t know how to sail.  This might be a daydream that’ll take some time.  But not impossible.

And the dog.  I don’t know where she fits in.  Can a dog be happy living on a boat?  Do you build a big sandbox?  Would I spend my entire time picking dog hair out of everything I own?  Another problem that needs some research.

I do think that this would be a fun adventure, something else to write about.  Especially when I’m lost at sea or things break that I can’t fix.  But that’s the fun.

I really should get back to more productive things for now…

Calli at Polihale

Calli at Polihale

New blog site

While I am finishing my book I have begun my publicity site at

Check it out and subscribe to my blog.  I’ll be adding to my page when I have new updates on my first publishing venture.

Have a great day!

Crazy waves at Polihale

Crazy waves at Polihale