PNG’s Conflict Island

Filipino Sea Woman in Conflict island

I found peace in Conflict Island. Ironic, isn’t it? Well, don’t get fooled by its name. I first came here last August 4, 2017. It was a Papua New Guinea cruise then. For me it would eternally be one of the most stunning corners of the world I’ve ever seen.

A Little Background

Conflict island is a group of 21 picturesque islands that was first spotted in 1879 by HMS Cormorant. In 1880, Bower who was the captain of HMS Conflict gave the beautiful paradise its name.

The islands are surrounded by a bluer than blue lagoon that is home to what marine biologist consider to be one of the most biodiverse reef systems in the world. Whenever someone would mention PNG to me, this is the first image that would come to mind. Kiriwina, another place in PNG, is also a favorite of mine.

Conflict island is an idyllic island haven measuring 375 hectares and located just north of Papua New Guinea’s Milne Bay Region. It’s about 80 kilometers from the nearest points in PNG. Because it’s very far, it’s impossible to get there on your own terms. Cruise ships are the perfect way to see the island.

The Australian businessman Ian Gowrie-Smith and his family privately own Conflict island. P&O cruises are the destinations’ exclusive partners. I came here aboard the lovely Pacific Aria.

Can We Go Now???

I remember waking up very early that day. Well, weeks ago my good friend and I already made plans to go out. Unlike her, I’ve never been to this place and I was excited to see what it’s like.  In total, I only had two short visits here. The second time, which was also the last time, was in November 2017.

I didn’ t have a proper breakfast. I was in my room and I only ate cookies that time. I met my friend and we went straight to the gangway, hoping to go out fast. Surprisingly, we found lots of crew members crowding in corners while waiting for a tender boat ride. The ship’s security officers were very strict that day. The captain released an order to make sure the guests can go out first before the crew members.

two cruise ship workers in conflict island
Waiting at the top deck just behind the Kids Club

After waiting patiently, my friend and I realized it’s pointless to stay. It’s going to be a waste of time. Instead, we decided to go to the top deck at the back of the ship. There, I had a tantalizing glimpse into an enchanting picture that I will forever keep.  We both agreed to go back to bed and try again after lunch.

Sun, Sea, Sand

I was awakened by a call. “We can go out now,” my friend said. I jumped out of bed, grabbed my bag and proceeded to meet her. We were beyond excited.

A few minutes later, we were already in the tender boat. It floated and gently sailed through an incredibly calm water. It was a very hot day, but I remember taking off my sunglasses. I wanted to see its beauty up close despite the very bright light that pierced my curious eyes.

Finally, we reached the island – a special place I only knew from other people’s stories and pictures I viewed from the Internet. To be able to see it for real was such a great blessing I will never forget.

We alighted from the boat and were greeted by an endless white sandy beach. The aqua colored water was sublimely clear that one can see what’s underneath. There’s no need to use goggles. We had a leisurely walk while taking pictures. We wandered around and then ran. We ran to the water like kids ready to have fun. The water was refreshingly warm. It soothed our skin and relaxed our minds.

I didn’t take so many pictures that day. Actually, we brought two cameras with us. We took a few shots with the first one before its battery died. We weren’t able to take quality pictures with the second camera because we just borrowed it from another friend, and we couldn’t change its setting. My phone, on the other hand, stayed idly inside my bag the whole time. Despite all that, it was perfectly fine. I remember paying attention to every single thing around. I was glued to a “perfect moment” that certainly touched my soul and warmed my heart.

Final Bow

We went back to Conflict island in October of 2017. I was three cruises away from going home. I was fortunate I was given the chance to go out again and took better pictures.

girls in conflict island
October 2, 2017. Fun times with the girls. Thank you Mary, Luv, and Edel 🙂

That was my last contract with P&O Australia. Pacific Aria was my last ship with them. Undoubtedly, it was a happy end to an almost 6 years of experiences, lessons, and memories that had gifted me in so many ways. Thank you P&O for everything that you gave me and made me become. Thank you Edel for the gift of friendship and being part of my life.

What blessings did you receive today? Count the big things and the small things. Remember what Aesop once said. “Gratitude turns what we have into enough.

Follow your dreams.

Jen

Pacific Dawn: My First Cruise Ship Home

Pacific Dawn is a cruise ship home for many Filipino seafarers.

Pacific Dawn was my very first cruise ship home. I joined the ship in December 2011. It was Christmas season. Back then I was clueless and naïve. I really didn’t know what to expect. I remember the super cold wind that welcomed me when we arrived in Sydney. From there, we rode another plane that brought me to Brisbane where me and the Dawn first met.

FAST FACTS:

Capacity  1546 guests and almost 700 crew members
Decks11
Maximum Speed22.5 knots
Length245 meters/ 811 feet
Weight70 285 gross tonnage

BRIEF HISTORY

Pacifc Dawn is a cruise ship owned by Carnival Corporation and operated by P&O Cruises Australia. P&O Cruises is one of the oldest cruise lines in the world. They were the ones who introduced cruising to Australia and up to now continues to be a mainstay in the Australian cruising industry.

Pacific Dawn was built in 1991 by Fincantieri shipyard in Monfalcone , Italy. It was designed by the Italian architect Renzo Piano. From 1991 up to 2007, it sailed for Princess Cruises and was known as the Regal Princess. It has traveled across the Caribbean, Australia, Mediterranean and Baltic Sea. In 2007, the ship underwent an extensive refurbishment and was renamed Pacific Dawn by Olympic gold medalist Cathy Freeman. It was also during this year when Carnival Corporation acquired the Dawn from Princess Cruises.

WHAT IT SHOWED ME

They say that, “Home is not where you are from, but rather where you belong“. After working on ships, I would say I found it to be true.

When I was younger, I used to be burdened by the idea of having double lives that come with being a  seafarer. A life back home and to where the ship goes. Now that I’m older, my perspective has changed. I now look at it as a privilege. An amazing favor that not everybody gets to experience. An opportunity that can bring outpouring blessings, depending on how you will receive it and what you will do with it.

My first room on the ship was a passenger cabin. I shared it with Mary, another Filipina who was also a first timer. That tiny room was our safe haven for a few weeks. Until some crew cabins were vacated and we got transferred. The new cabin was way smaller. Nonetheless it was okay. Its walls had witnessed crying moments brought by being away from family and joys that came with finding new friends.

And then there was the Kids club, my area of work. My happy place, too. It was in this room where my love for the youth grew. I met wonderful kids and teens from Australia, New Zealand, England, India, China, Fiji and many more. There were times when I didn’t understand how they spoke. There were moments when I didn’t get their ways because their upbringing was so different from how I was raised. Despite those differences, most of them became my friends. Not just them but even their parents.

I remember the crew mess where I sat and ate. There were always chicken and fish. At some point I didn’t like to go anymore. I craved for food my Mama cooked when I was home. But I will never forget how things changed on certain nights of each week. Amazingly, when it got dark this tiny place transformed into a church. This is where I met fellow believers who became brothers and sisters. In this little place, we gathered to sing and give praises to the Lord. To get to know His words.

At the top of the ship was the Lido deck where you can find the pools for the guest passengers. This was where I saw creatures scantily clad. They worshiped the sun hoping get toasted or to simply just relax. This was where most people, guest and crew, went to on the first day of the cruise. We partied as we sail away from the home port. I remember dancing here in front of many people for the first time. It was Island night and I wanted to cry. I didn’t know I had to do things like that.

This pool deck was also where I took the teens for their pool party. There were dancing and good music, team games and races. I remember the water splashing as they compete against each other. And when they misbehaved, we had the microphone to make announcement. Just to make sure they will listen and no one will get hurt.

When you look up towards the front you will see the big screen where they broadcast full-length concerts, live sports and movies. There was a mini stage facing it where the children and I stayed to play Just Dance or Mario Kart on the Wii.

At the very back was the Pantry where the guests eat for free. We were lucky to be allowed to eat there when it’s not busy. They served different kinds of food from various countries. There were curry, tacos, freshly baked breads, sandwiches, salads, soups, chicken, steak, and fish. I get hungry when I think about all the mouth-watering desserts. There were pizza, shrimps and chicken wings from the Grill. When we’re starving at night or someone’s having a birthday, we patiently waited for our orders.

And there was the Marquee Theater where I first encountered TC and Skipper. They were the cute turtle and friendly shark which our junior cruisers from the Kids Club love. We held our show in this big theater. We danced, sang songs, took pictures and threw balloons at each other.

There was a place called the Atrium. Passengers preferred it for lively mornings and afternoons. Here, there were always activities happening like trivia and game shows. I remember hosting paper plane challenge with kids and their families. Everyone was on their toes even from their seats. Those who happened to just walk by couldn’t hold their breath. The evening of the last day of the cruise was my favorite. All the musicians on board played really good music and showcased their talents.

WHERE IT TOOK ME

Jaime Lynn Beatty said, “Jobs fill your pocket. Adventures fill your soul.” Imagine the thrill and joy brought by getting both. When I was on the Dawn, I got to see beautiful places in Australia, New Zealand, and South Pacific Islands.

In Brisbane, I remember going to the Lone Pine Zoo where I fed kangaroos and cuddled a cute koala for the first time. On turnaround days, I religiously took quick visits to the Queensland library for Internet and free wi-fi. Airlie Beach was another port that can be warm or chilly but always gives bliss. I walked its shoreline many times with friends. I saw shops that sold lots of interesting things.

New Zealand was certainly a great treat. I will never forget Fiordlands that gifted my eyes with the most beautiful scene. I remember waking up so early just to go to the top deck. There, I would meet other crew members enchanted by a picture that almost looked perfect. Akaroa was lovely with all its colorful flowers. Wellington was charming with its winter chill. I can still imagine the many chocolates in Dunedin.

We also went to New Caledonia. Here, there’s a small place called Noumea. Many times I planned to take the bus that goes around this French territory. However, the ride was long and my time was short. So I always ended up walking to an old church where I prayed many prayers, most of which were answered. Almost every cruise, we went to Lifou island. I swam its water and lied down on its sand many many times. The picturesque Isle of Pines lingers in my mind. I can still see that giant piece of rock on the water with a tiny cave inside.

Vanuatu was forever nice and hot. We explored Vila’s incredible beaches and kayaked under the sun. We went to Cascade Waterfalls and had so much fun. And there was the uninhabited Mystery island which offered pure white sand, palm trees, coral reefs, and many other reasons to unwind. But my most favorite was Champagne Bay, the ultimate beach getaway. Its deep blue water was always soothingly warm. The were also cheap lobsters that the locals sell around. 

WHAT IT TAUGHT ME

I read a quote before that went, “We met for a reason. Either you’re a blessing or a lesson.” I guess it’s the same with ships and people.

I never really planned to work on cruise ships. Allow me to believe I was serendipity led me to it. When I first joined the Pacific Dawn, I didn’t have the slightest idea that I was up for a roller coaster ride.  

spent three contracts on this ship. Each of those contracts was different. Each had a part in shaping who I am today. These are the lessons that I learned from Pacific Dawn, my first cruise ship home.

D – from Dependence to Dauntlessness

I remember asking myself, “Can I do it?” It’s not comfortable and convenient to be away from family and friends. Now, I’m grateful to have taken the challenge. You’ll grow up when you’re away from your support system. You make your own decisions concerning work, money, health, personal well-being, relationships and faith. I learned to look after myself and do things on my own. There were many days when it felt a little scary. I realized being scared is okay. You do what you need to do anyway. There were countless times when I ate, watched shows, and went ashore alone. Yet I was never lonely. It’s not because I preferred to do things solo but because others were not always around. No matter how close you are to someone on the ship, there are times when they just won’t be available. But you still go because you’re in charge of your own joy. Your happiness does not depend other people.    

A – from Agony to Awakening

When I started working on the ship the work itself didn’t bother me. It was environment. Dancing aside, work has always been fun because being with kids is something I like to do and something I’m good at. It’s the “ship culture” that took a while for me to adjust to. The culture of permissiveness that allows people to do whatever regardless of whether it’s right or not. I saw ugly things – from infidelity, stealing, power tripping, crab mentality, indifference and prejudice. I didn’t feel I belong and I didn’t want to belong either. But through the years I learned to look at the mess from a mind seeking to understand instead of casting judgment. Also, I realized I don’t have to look elsewhere. I can always be the difference I seek.

W – from Whining to Winning

For me, Australians had a funny way of speaking. Not just them but also the English, the Scottish and the Kiwis. They all sounded weird. Imagine the struggle I went through on my first week on the ship. I was hearing all these words that didn’t make sense. They all spoke in English but the sound was so different. I felt so dumb. I couldn’t understand what they were saying. And not everyone was kind when asked to repeat what they said. I remember talking to my mom and my sister over the phone just to cry and complain. Good thing despite the distance they were there to give encouragement. And I’m glad I listened. I persevered until I finally was able to break into their language. And sooner into their culture which made it easier for me to give them better service. Learning and winning, as all other things, require time and willingness to do it.    

N – from No to Next

“This is not for me. I will only do one contract and that’s it.” I told this to myself and to a preacher friend who laughed at me when we met again on many other ships. Sometimes things happen along the way and the very thing that we said no to can actually bring us immense joy in the end. Only if we’re happy to wait. Thankfully I didn’t quit. I would have missed seeing the person I am today. My stay on the Dawn taught me I can do this job and be good at it. That I can walk to the next ship and the many other journeys ahead.  After all, I am never alone. For I believe in God who walks with me wherever I go.

 

Pacific Dawn is still in service. However, it looks very different now compared to when I was there. Ships also have their own journey. I’m glad it’s not just the Dawn that changed. I, too.

Follow your dreams.

Jen