Lucy in Idaho - wander with melissa

Whitefish, I’m in love.

Today I find myself in Whitefish, Montana. I could live here.

I did some hiking and sightseeing in Coeur d’Alene (which I haven’t yet successfully spelled correctly without Googling), and it is a beautiful town. I was going to dedicate this post to CDA (easier to spell), but then I got to Whitefish and now think it’s a dump in comparison. Whitefish is easier to type, too.

Lucy and I drove around Lake CDA, which is quite a distance, and really is breathtaking. Long, long lake surrounded by evergreen forest and snowcapped mountains, with a windy road along one side. That about sums it up. I was looking for a picturesque spot for sunset photos and severely underestimated how long it would take to drive around so most of it was seen in partial darkness. We had our first wildlife scare on the way – deer running across the one-lane road. Fortunately, I was driving at annoying-tourist speed.

Lucy in Coeur d'Alene - wander with melissa


We packed up the next morning and drove the steep mountain roads into Montana, and I have to admit I was somewhat terrified at times. Signs posted every few miles told me to watch for ice, or that the bridges are icy, or the shady spots are icy, and since I haven’t driven in snow in years I immediately assumed the entire roadway was a giant sheet of ice. I spent hours barely going the speed limit, sometimes under and hoping my Hawaii license plates would allow people to forgive me, while imagining my truck sliding off the mountain, tumbling several times, and ending in a fiery crash at the bottom in a fluffy pile of snow. Realistically, though, it was only drizzling, most of the snow was melted and not a drop on the road, and I am accustomed to my imagination running off in random, horrible directions. The temperature was in the low-40s and I didn’t see any evidence of other people hurtling to their deaths. The scariest part was at one of the peaks before the curving 6% downgrade, raining and foggy with snow cover all around in the forest, and I was at least happy I couldn’t see enough through the fog to the bottom of the valley. Needless to say, we lived, although I really could have used those CBD gummies I bought in Portland – just for this occasion – which were buried somewhere in the back of my truck.

After surviving the first few miles of Montana, we turned up toward Whitefish on mostly one-lane roads; these were pretty clear and the driving was much less stressful. All in all, though, my journey thus far from Portland has had me poking Lucy to wake her up every few minutes to tell her how beautiful it is. Or that she’s missing a herd of cows.

I had randomly selected The Pine Lodge in Whitefish and made a reservation that morning (since it is now even colder and rainier and I will not be camping), and it was a good choice. This is a great place to stay, right along the Whitefish river but just outside town. Lucy sniffed the carpet, but only a fraction as long as in CDA, so it is definitely a clean place. I thought that might be a niche job for my dog – hotel cleanliness inspector. You would be rated according to how many seconds it takes Lucy to cover the room.

Lucy and I were both super stressed from the drive so the first thing we did was find a dog park for her to run. Whitefish seems to be a very dog-friendly town, as evidenced by the 200 dog grooming, boarding, and pet stores we passed. We found a 5-acre dog park, mostly mud at this time of year, and she ran her brains out with another dog she met. And since she was already long-overdue for a bath, we went to a do-it-yourself dog wash store (omg who knew these existed??) and now she smells like strawberries. She hated every moment of it, and I ended up spending 10 minutes wiping down the walls and floors of the room since she somehow sprayed water several feet into the pet food area.

Lucy Whitefish dogpark - wander with melissa


Many of the roads in Glacier National Park are still closed so Lucy and I found a trail to hike that didn’t require driving through the snow up to the mountains this morning. I do want to hike Glacier sometime, but I’ll have to plan that better. We went to Swift Creek trailhead (I had chosen a different one but somehow couldn’t find it). Grizzly bear season is starting and warning signs were posted everywhere. I’ve wanted to see a bear for as long as I can remember, so we started down the trail with high hopes.

I imagined that my first bear sighting would be something like the first time I went scuba diving to look for Laverne, the famous Kona tiger shark. Totally excited at first, ready to observe and photograph one of nature’s most fearsome creatures; but when I finally saw her I hid behind a lump of coral, hyperventilating and peeing my wetsuit. And forgot to take a picture. (For the record, I was much braver each successive time I saw her).

Lucy and I started down the trail, camera in hand (new, crappy camera – my good Nikon died in Portland and the camera shop couldn’t fix it. I had to mail it to Nikon and I’m hoping to catch up with it further into Montana. I had to buy the best Nikon that Best Buy had to offer, which after my D750 is almost archaic. Still, better than my iPhone). The forest was completely silent, and the smell was something I had completely forgotten – glorious wet evergreen forest smell. The trail was icy in places and the going was slow. Lucy learned that if she dug a little hole in the snow she could stick her nose in and smell wonderful decaying things. She also learned that she loves deer poop.

Whitefish forest - wander with melissa


And while I’m thinking of poop – the trail was wonderfully clean, in terms of trash, except for… yes, dog poop bags! Really. It’s nice that owners are conscientious enough to pick up after their pets, but you have to take the plastic bag with you and put it in the trash! Poop bags of all the colors of the rainbow were along the trail. Idiots.

It took some time to walk the Swift Creek loop due to the ice, and we stopped off at the Creek overlook hoping to see one of the bears hunting fish (although I have no idea if bears do that everywhere, or if the bears here are like Yogi and just look for unprotected picnic baskets). I wanted to go to the lake to look for bears but it was two more miles of icy trail along a steep ridge and I had no desire to slide off the edge, so Lucy and I started back. I was trying to imagine what it would be like to run into a bear; I had no bear spray, and my hunting knife was last used to cut lemons and was currently residing in a bag with my kitchen supplies (but really I’d get mauled before I got close enough to use my knife – it’s more a morale knife than a hunting knife). I wondered what Lucy would do. As a Plott hound, her breed was originally bred to hunt bear – but my dog, who is frightened of bridges and rustling plastic bags and the squeak that doors make – who knows. In my head she is ferociously protecting me, barking and driving the hungry bear away, but in reality I could see her trying to hide behind my legs, tangling me in her leash and causing me to fall on the ice, then we’d both get eaten. 

Swift creek - wander with melissa


Enjoying the quiet and the relaxing smells of forest as we neared the end of the trail, dreaming of what to have for lunch, we were completely startled by a massive, shaggy brown thing running across our trail. A grizzly bear! Oh My God A Grizzly Bear! 

Much like in the ocean, I hid behind the nearest tree and peeked out, but thankfully I did not pee myself (much more obvious on land). Lucy was absolutely silent, standing rigid, staring ahead. I didn’t know what to do. I looked around and saw I was near the entrance to the loop so going back wasn’t an option; in fact looking a bit closer I could see my truck in the parking lot. I wondered what they would say if I called 911 and told them a bear was in the forest. So we waited, all the while peering out from behind a tree. It was totally quiet. Not even a chirping bird. 

And then I looked down at my feet. I thought I was standing on a stick, but it was a severed deer leg. The hoof, plus about 10 inches of bone with some fur. Lucy didn’t even notice it, she was still in guard mode. Time to move.

I hadn’t seen the bear for a few minutes, so we left the trail and crept quietly to the far side of the parking lot and reached my truck. After my heart started beating again I was upset I didn’t have a picture, so I left my driver’s side door open and Lucy and I cautiously headed back toward where we saw the bear. If we only went a little way in we could run and jump into the truck if we had a little head start. Supposing, of course, I didn’t panic and slip on the ice and become this bear’s first spring meal.

Whitefish deer - wander with melissa


We stayed out another half hour but never saw her again. More deer, squirrels and birds, but nothing else. It was a great day. And like with Laverne, I will be a little braver next time I see a bear. But I probably won’t be any braver driving. Wish me clear roads and blue skies for my next big drive tomorrow.

Aloha from Montana!





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Wandering – non-fiction travel/adventure/humor

Sylvie Writes a Romance – romantic comedy

Sylvie Falls in Love – romantic comedy part 2

Surfer, Sailor, Smuggler – adventure/ocean fiction based on true stories

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Melissa Burovac, author

My author interview, by Lucia N. Davis


I was honored to be interviewed by fellow author Lucia N Davis. You can find the interview on Lucia’s blog.

So far, Lucia has written two eBooks, available on Amazon. Both are (paranormal) mysteries, with a hint of romance, set in the Pacific Northwest. Give them a read, you won’t be disappointed.

Read my interview of Lucia.

The Indie author community is a talented, supportive group and I’m proud to be a part of it. If you’d like to have a guest post on my blog just send me a message at Examples of interviews, along with links to blogs and where to purchase books can be found on my website.




Melissa Burovac, author




About Melissa:

Sylvie Writes a Romance


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From Travel to Romcon and Beyond

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Melissa Burovac

From travel to romcom and beyond – an evolution of my writing

In 2012, I embarked on a solo RTW trip that lasted nine months. I had never traveled solo before, and have a healthy dose of social anxiety plus a great fear of getting lost with my poor sense of direction, so this was an enormous undertaking for me. I had help getting prepared from traveler friends, creating lists of places to visit and gear I might need along the way. I put my furniture in storage, not knowing what to expect for how long I would be gone, sold my beloved Jeep Cherokee, and bought a one-way ticket to Mexico. I got a ride to the airport in Lihue, Kauai, carrying only a backpack containing clothes, a point and shoot camera, a 13” Mac laptop, and a water filter. A couple months after my 40th birthday, I was as ready as I would ever be.

During my travels I visited nine countries: Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, Panama, Cuba, Australia, Cambodia, and Thailand. I encountered natural disasters in most of the countries — two hurricanes, a volcano eruption, an earthquake and a wildfire. As I blogged, my friends joked they knew where I was by where the natural disasters were occurring. “Something exploded? Let’s see where Melissa is!”

Blogging as I traveled was mainly to let my mother know I was still alive. I had childhood dreams of being a writer, but those got lost in the flurry of making a living after college and were completely forgotten. When I returned to Kauai after my trip I didn’t expect such a reaction to my blog; people were amazed I traveled for nine months, mostly solo, and that I didn’t die in the drug wars of Mexico, or some other place they only knew from news reports. Or even that as a woman, I was able to make my way through the world without trouble — some trouble, but not much. The women who followed me online were especially impressed and wanted to know how I did it all by myself. As I heard, more and more, “You should write a book,” I recalled those forgotten dreams of becoming an author and decided to give it a try.

Wandering was born from my blog posts, mostly written in bars and cafes around the world— a little bit drunk, a little bit lost, and toward the end, a whole lot homesick from being alone. This first book of mine was self-published in June 2014.

It wasn’t as easy as it sounds, though. I was working full-time as a bookkeeper, writing full-time after work — mostly from the back of my truck at the beach with a $200 laptop — and I was exhausted. I lost touch with most of my friends, and was a little depressed with the sudden lack of freedom.

Finally, though, Wandering was finished, published, and it was the most exciting thing in my life to see a book I had written in print. I immediately had dreams of writing more books, but didn’t see enough income to allow me to quit my regular job. I sent copies to every major outlet and publisher I could find online but no one picked up the book. While visiting my sister in Portland I took copies to Powell’s and sold them as used just so I could go back a week later and see my book on the shelf at a bookstore.

So what comes next? I wanted to be a full-time writer but it wasn’t working out exactly as it had in my daydreams. I didn’t have another book planned, and couldn’t begin to imagine what to do with myself.

One afternoon I was flipping through articles about writing on the internet and came across one about romance writers. The three women depicted in the article were raking in huge monthly incomes from churning out romance e-books, and I thought to myself, How hard could it be to write a romance novel?

I was sitting at a bar in Portland, drinking Bloody Marys and turning my imagination to writing a quick, sexy romance novel to generate some income — and I failed miserably. This is actually the only non-fiction scene in my second book Sylvie Writes a Romance.

I love to read classic fiction, sci-fi, horror, biographies — really, anything but romance novels. In my snobby view of the writing world I didn’t consider romance novels as literature, but just a means to pass the time, and not even as “real writing.” I was completely confused when I couldn’t write anything in that genre that was remotely good. It opened my eyes to how much work any type of writing entails.

I came back home to Kauai and bought a couple used romance novels at a thrift store, and sat down to read them. The books weren’t grammatically complicated, and didn’t contain any lofty ideas, and I sat down to write again, never actually finishing either of them. I just wanted to write something for a mass market so I could concentrate on writing something more profound.

I failed again and again, never writing anything I was happy with. But these failures evolved into a new project about a writer trying to write a romance novel and failing, turning to online dating to meet men and hoping to learn the meaning of romance. It’s more comedy than romance, which suits my style much better.

Sylvie Writes a Romance was born, and published in 2016.

Since Sylvie was written, I have been working on a sequel, plus trying my hand at writing a biography. I hope to have both published this year, and still have my sights set on a full-time career in writing.



Find my books on Amazon:

Sylvie Writes a Romance


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Wandering - Melissa Burovac

Wandering Kindle sale – April 8 – 15, 2017


Because of Jennifer S Alderson‘s new group Travel by Book, I’ve arranged for a special sale of Wandering. Beginning on April 8, 2017 you can buy the Kindle version for only 99 cents! During the week, the price will slowly creep back up to the regular Kindle price of $4.99, so get it in the first couple of days for the best deal. Please share this post with anyone who might enjoy a fun travel/adventure book, and sign up for my blog for sales, short stories, and a first look at my new adventure book coming out later this year.

Wandering is the true story of my first RTW trip…


Traveling solo as a woman certainly has its ups and downs, but Melissa Burovac will be the first to tell you to embrace the adventure as you encounter it.

Facing her 40th birthday as a single woman in a job she was tired of, Burovac decided to do something. Always keen for adventure, she chose to buy a one-way ticket to Mexico—and quit her job, sell her beloved Jeep, and store all her belongings.

Though she’d gone on trips abroad before, Burovac didn’t feel like she’d ever earned the title of “traveler.” But that was about to change.

Wandering relates the adventures, and misadventures (she encounters so many major weather events that her friends start predicting where the next disaster will strike based on her next destination), of her nine months traveling through Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, Panama, Cuba, Australia, Cambodia, and Thailand.

Her stories will crack you up—and they will inspire you. As someone with no sense of direction, no ability to plan, and plenty of social anxiety, her experiences prove that anyone who wants to travel can!


Happy reading!



Check out my books on Amazon:

Sylvie Writes a Romance


Leave a review on Amazon and I’ll love you forever!

Recent articles:

Travel Writing on

Recent reviews:

Indie Reader Review for Sylvie Writes a Romance

Kirkus Indie Review for Sylvie Writes a Romance


Kauai Adventure Photo

Expat and Traveler Stories by Women Writers

In celebration of her new release, Notes of a Naive Traveler, Jennifer S Alderson has invited travelers and expats to guest blog on her site. I’m happy to say I’m featured for the first week, and I hope you give it a read:

How Traveling Abroad Turned Me into a Writer

I had a lot of fun writing this article, as I am so busy working on new projects I barely think about the trip from four years ago. Seems like a good time to start planning a new one…









Check back on Monday for the second article in this series by international educator Jill Dobbe.



Find my books on Amazon:

Sylvie Writes a Romance


Leave a review on Amazon and I’ll love you forever!

Sylvie Writes a Romance on Smashwords – for Nook, Kobo, etc

Recent articles:

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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Birthday Week Kindle Book Giveaway

It’s that time again – the annual Wandering on Kindle book giveaway. Get it absolutely free between now and March 28th!

Check it out on Amazon.

Wandering tallies her hilarious as well as poignant experiences as she travels from Mexico through Central America, sneaks into Cuba, and journeys from Australia to Cambodia and Thailand. Read about her misadventures with crocodiles and the times she encounters erupting volcanoes…and two hurricanes…and a wildfire.

Burovac’s stories will make you laugh while reminding you that life is an adventure—and sometimes you just need to pack a bag and get lost.

Wandering on Kindle – Holiday Sale

Beginning today and ending on Christmas, the Kindle version of Wandering is on sale!

Get it at Amazon – Wandering.

And as always, you can read it absolutely free with Kindle Unlimited.

As a Christmas present to me, leave a review!


Stay tuned, my next book will be out in 2016!

Thank you!

Worst dive buddy ever – scuba diving on The Great Barrier Reef

An excerpt from Wandering, from the Great Barrier Reef:

I went with the same company but still had to fill out all the same paperwork about experience and medical conditions and such. All the certified divers were grouped together, again only about 20 of us. One English woman with a high-pitched, whiny voice had dozens of questions for the crew. One of the questions in the paperwork was “Have you ever dived in the ocean?” and she immediately flagged down a crewman and asked, “Which ocean? This ocean? What if I’ve dived in a different ocean? Does that count? Are all the oceans the same? I did dive in one but maybe it doesn’t count?” She had endless questions about the basic paperwork and the crewman sat down, realizing that he wasn’t going to get away from her any time soon. I was sitting with a Canadian woman, Tamara, and we were practically rolling on the floor laughing.

When we arrived at the dive site, the certified divers were called back to gear up and my gear was set up next to the crazy woman’s. She had trouble with her regulator, but not really, and called several crew members over to look at it. They all said it was fine, but she demanded that someone switch it out. Then we were seated, strapped onto our tanks and ready to go, when the boat ran over and severed the mooring line, which meant we had another 15 minutes to sit in full gear while they fixed it. Crazy woman started making small talk with me. “Have you dived here before?”

“Is this ocean salty?”
“Um, I think that’s what defines an ocean, there’s salt in the water.”

“But is it really salty?”

“I don’t know how to answer that.”
“I’m asking because I’m really thirsty.”
At that moment I knew that she would be assigned as my divebuddy. It was my fate.

Crazy did ask me to be her buddy while we were waiting for the mooring line to be fixed. I tried to weasel out like before, crossed my fingers, and told her that we get assigned and couldn’t choose. I wished I had asked Tamara but completely forgot, and we were strapped into our tanks far away from each other. And, as luck would have it, I got Crazy for a buddy. I’m sure the crew was chuckling about being rid of her for a while. It was a group dive, but she was still my responsibility.

It was time and we finally jumped in. The first thing Crazy did was swim over and grab my arm; the dive hadn’t even started and I was already annoyed. I did my best with hand signals to let her know that at no time was she welcome to touch me, and I headed to the bottom. In the minute it took to get there I received six OK signals from her.

I like to dive with a little space, so if people are crowded around the guide I’ll hang back, or if people are doing their own thing I’ll go up front, just as long as I can see what I want and not bump into people. Crazy never got more than two feet away from me at any point; no matter how hard I tried to make some room she would swim over and touch me. Every time I looked up to see what was touching me, I’d see her flash the OK sign. I wanted to give her the finger but thought that might be a bit much. She went so far as to swim up to my head and throw an OK sign in front of my mask. I wanted to turn off her tank.

I’m not a bad dive buddy, but partners need to check on each other only so much. I was always aware of where she was, even when she wasn’t touching me; I looked back many times since she refused to swim in front of me, and she always seemed fine. That, in my opinion, is what was required of me.

There was a lot of great sea life on the dive, but my annoyance level was pretty high and I didn’t enjoy everything as much as I could have. Forty minutes of OK signals.

We were back on the boat for our surface interval, getting our tanks refilled and our gear ready. I only wore a skin suit for the first dive and was kind of cold, so I was trying to find a half wetsuit to wear as well. Crazy sat down and started to lecture me on the proper way to be a good dive buddy. She didn’t think I was doing my job.

“I’d appreciate it if you’d give me the OK sign more often when we’re under water.” I think I had given her one for the entire first dive. I let her know that I always knew where she was and she looked fine and I didn’t feel the need for constant OK signs.

“How do you know I’m OK if I don’t give you an OK sign?”

“Well, you’re swimming along normally and looking at stuff and look pretty OK so I don’t feel I need to ask.”

“But how will I know if you’re OK if you don’t tell me you’re OK?”

“Well, if I’m swimming normally and looking at stuff and I look OK then you should just assume that I’m OK too.”

“You need to give me more OK signs on the next dive, I need to know that you’re OK.”

I had to turn and start talking to the woman on the other side of me because I was afraid I was going to hit Crazy.

We jumped in for the second dive and immediately I had my shadow throwing OK signs at me. I refused to give her even one for the entire dive; I get a little stubborn when I’m annoyed. I looked back at Crazy several times; I did my job. But this time I concentrated on the reef and all the wild things living down there and ignored her as much as possible. There were squid, white-tip reef sharks, turtles, rays, unicorn fish, another giant Napoleon wrasse, and huge groupers; completely excellent.

We had about seven minutes left to dive when I felt Crazy grab my leg and pull me backwards. That’s fucking enough, time to turn off her tank for real. Her ear felt funny, she signaled, and I didn’t give a shit. I got the guide’s attention and signaled that my buddy was sick, then swam away in hopes that he’d send her to the surface. But she wasn’t sick, there wasn’t anything wrong with her ear, she just wanted attention, and after several more OK signals we resumed our dive.

During our lunch break I made it very clear that she was not to speak to me again.

The third dive was spectacular; I started it off by getting attacked by a good-sized triggerfish. It was mating season for them and they actually build nests and defend them ferociously. It would have been nice if the crew had warned us, since they dive at the same mooring every day. I was descending, minding my own business, when a big fish with pointy teeth charged at me. It was more funny than scary because trigger fish are so cute, but he wouldn’t leave me alone. I tried to swim away but he kept nipping at me, and I could see Crazy having a minor underwater heart attack from the exertion of all the OK signals she was throwing at me, which I ignored.

Most surprisingly, though, on the third dive she mostly left me alone. I looked back for her here and there and she had given me several feet of personal space. Aaah. And when we surfaced, I never had to see her again.

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Seadragon video from Tasmania

This video accompanies the previous post about sighting a seadragon in Tasmania.


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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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Wandering at the NW Bookfest and the Oregon Brewfest

I feel that today was a momentous day in my career as an author.  Or my wanna-be career as an author.  I came to Portland for a visit, and coincidentally, the annual NW Bookfest was happening.  I was several months too late to get a table at the exposition, but thought I could show up and make some connections, maybe sell some books.  Schmooze with other authors.

When I woke up this morning I was actually pretty terrified about going to the event by myself, I find it hard to walk up to random people and talk, especially if I’m trying to sell my work.  I considered having a bloody mary or two to calm my nerves but decided to go sober and see how it worked out.

The one thing I hadn’t counted on was that most authors are actually more introverted and geeky than me, which was a pleasant surprise.  There were 100 tables of authors selling their books and I had no problem making conversation and at some point, directing the shy people into talking about my book and passing out my cards.  Not to say that I didn’t learn about many other authors, but I formed some friendships and traded stories for a good part of my morning.

I only brought five copies of my book to the event, mostly because I was nervous and wasn’t sure that I could sell any without a booth, but I talked five authors into book trades and was able to pick up five books that sounded really interesting.  Besides finding five new books to read, five people now own my book and we promised to trade reviews on Amazon and Goodreads.  I think that’s a win in this situation.

At one point I was stung by a bee as I was chatting up an author.  I said ‘Ouch,’ looked down and pull the stinger out of my leg.  She asked if I was allergic, I told her that we’d see, and we continued on in our conversation.  I didn’t die.

The major thing I learned was what an author’s table should look like at an event.  Everyone had giant poster board pictures of their books, which I have, but most had themed tablecloths, shirts, hats, bookmarks, postcards, and giveaways.  The giveaways were what drew so many people to the tables, and very few authors had them.  At one table, I was asked to pick a card from a specially printed deck, if I picked the ace of spades I could win a copy of the newest book.  Any other ace won a copy of an older book.  I drew the nine of clubs and got some advice.  They were philosophy books.

My favorite table was by Robert R Mitchell, the author of “Only Shot to a Good Tombstone.”  He erected a spinning wheel ala The Price is Right, and had several book-themed items to give away.  I won a beer coozey.  Appropriate.  He had a tablecloth printed with his book info that caught the eye, and some tombstone themed decorations.  Win for him.

Another booth by CS Blue, a poet, featured a sound system, and he sang me his latest love poem, accompanied by soothing music.  I’m not a huge poetry fan but he put his heart and soul into the production.  I was a bit uncomfortable nearing the end, as I was the only person at his table listening.  And because his love took on some more-than-pg flourishes.

Overall, I was pretty pleased at the event, I met several great people, and learned a lot about book promotion.  The books I traded for were The Sum of our Gods by Benjamin Gorman, The One Idea that Saves the World by Laurence Overmire, Island Women by Richard Sessions, Memory’s Hostage by Margaret Pinard, and Sun Wielder by D Wallace Peach.  All intriguing books that I’m excited to read.

The next stop of the day was the Oregon Brewfest.  I met my long-lost friend Andy Buoni and his co-worker Aaron, and we wandered around a couple hours sampling some of Oregon’s best microbrews.  Andy and I spent two years together at The Ohio State University, taking the same classes and doing all the things that delinquent college students do.  It’s always great to catch up with old friends, especially the kind that can start right into conversation like a day hasn’t passed.  I saw Andy last about five years ago, and before that, about 10 years.  Wow, I feel old.

The brewfest featured almost 100 different beers, including a small selection of international beers, ranging anywhere from 5% to 11% alcohol.  I tried multiple types that I’m trying hard to remember the names with very little luck.  When my phone gets charged I’ll be able to get the info from the pictures I took.  The ones I really wanted to try had lines with approximately 100 people and I didn’t have the patience to wait.  As it was, Andy and I perfected our line-cutting technique for a good portion of the day; he’s a smaller, inconspicuous type of guy who could melt into the front of a line without notice, and I’d show up as he reached the front.  At other times I’d spot a group of single men near the front of a line and strike up conversation, and Andy would appear as I was getting my beer poured.  The only objection came when a woman protested ‘cutters,’ and Aaron took the fall for us.  Poor Aaron didn’t benefit from any of our ingenious, tipsy line cutting.  I did miss out on the dragon fruit beer and the jalapeño beer, those lines were so long that cutting was not an option, but I can find them in the stores.

As the day progressed, the crowd became ridiculous, and I found the shortest line to spend my last token.  The shortest line didn’t necessarily mean the worst beer, it might mean an undiscovered beer with bad advertising.  After 15 samples, I was happy with it.  Then I took my commemorative glass and wandered to a nearby bar to write up my notes.

All in all, a successful day in the Pacific Northwest.  I’ve been wandering the city for almost a week, shopping, running, and discovering, and I have plans to hike waterfalls and find the hidden natural gems that Portlanders can show me.  The next stop is Seattle, for more book promotion and an unexpected wall dive that is apparently one of the best in the States.

Gearing up for a new book…

My first lionfish sting – Bocas del Toro, Panama – Wandering

My first lionfish sting (while searching for seahorses) – an excerpt from Wandering

Bocas del Toro, Panama

I was given a spear on the first dive, as I was in almost every dive since Mexico. I loved that I could show up to a dive shop, talk to them for five minutes and be given a spear. The three- prong spear is known the world over as a “Hawaiian sling,” so when I told them I lived in Hawaii, they automatically assumed I knew what I was doing. Plus, carrying a spear made me feel like a badass compared to the other tourists, so I never passed up the opportunity.

Lionfish are out of control throughout the Caribbean, so there is no limit to the amount you can kill, or any restrictions on the way you do it.

I always have a bit of trouble killing with my first shot; I always hit them in the gut and they just hobble away, and I have to chase them down and shoot again. In Belize and Honduras, giant groupers smelled the meat and waited for me to release my lionfish, and dead or not, they would suck them down in a single gulp. But there was nothing to eat them in Bocas; they were the biggest fish I saw. I killed four on my first dive, and with nothing to eat them half-alive, I had to scrape them from my spear with a rock or my fin and try again for the kill. I was a bit careless on my last kill and stabbed myself with one of its venomous spikes while I was scraping it off the spear.

I’d heard a lot of stories about lionfish stings, and none were pleasant. The effects range from those of a bad bee sting to hospital time for a full-on allergic reaction. When I felt the spike enter my thumb I thought, “Oh, great, maybe I’ll have cardiac arrest at 50 feet; that’ll be a new experience.” It was instant, throbbing pain. I swam up to my dive master and used hand signals to try to tell him that I stabbed myself with a poisonous fish but I wasn’t dying yet, so no worries. I think he understood.

By the time I finished the first dive, my thumb was almost twice its normal size, bright red, and massively painful. But since we hadn’t yet found any seahorses, I refused to be taken back and we went on to our next dive site.

By the end of the second dive, my thumb was almost back to normal, but I still planned on drinking plenty of rum afterward to bully any remaining toxins out of my liver. It helped that a fairly unattractive man was diving in a Speedo in front of me; I was so grossed out every time I looked up that I forgot about the pain.

Add these to your reading list (and request them from your local library):
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