Friday, April 6, 2012

Tahitian Pearl

Papeete, Tahiti, (pronounced something like Pa-pee-a-tay), is one of the most confusing cities we have ever tried to navigate in.  While the main road around the island is, for the most part, an easily traveled, enjoyable drive, Papeete, the main city, is unbelievably crowded, confusing and just plain crazy!  The roads are narrow, often one way, and intersect each other at every imaginable angle.  Picture a bowl full of spaghetti! No, that's not right.  Do you remember 'pick up sticks' as a child?  If not, imagine a bunch of chop sticks dumped into a large bowl.  That's what the road system reminds me of in Papeete.  Add to that, probably 90 percent of all cars on the island, are trying to drive there.  And if that isn't bad enough, many people ride scooters and aggressively weave in and out of the heavy car traffic.  What a nightmare! Oh, and the icing on the cake was that we have been driving on the left side of the road for a year, and now we were back to the right side of the road.  Whew!

We discovered this the first time we tried to find the temple.  With no GPS available, and very inadequate maps, and very tiny road signs, and wild drivers, it took us forever, but we finally found our way.  Honestly, it felt like we were on Mr. Toad's Wild Ride at Disneyland!!!  After that experience, we avoided going into town.  Finally, however, we needed to venture back.  

As you know, Tahiti is known for their black pearls, although we were quick to learn that Tahitians do not like their pearls to be labeled as 'black' because they indeed do come in many different and subtle shades of green, turquoise, rose, aqua, blue.  Some friends asked us if we had the chance, could we purchase some loose pearls for them, as we had heard you can buy pearls at a great price if you know where to go.  So one day we set out to find the Tahitian Pearl Market located in the center of Papeete.  We drove down the road we thought would take us there, only to end up in a totally different place than we had anticipated and from where our map showed we should be.  We did this numerous times and always ended up in a different place.  We managed to drive around in circles, (or angles), for a half hour or so with no sense of direction and no luck, and without having an accident, which was a miracle as well. Finally, we were so confused and frustrated we just parked the car, (finding a parking space was the next hurdle), and decided we'd just have to walk the streets asking people along the way.  Of course everyone only spoke French!

After trying to communicate with numerous people about what we were looking for, we finally found the store, located in a small room up a flight of stairs.  The gentleman who helped us spoke excellent English (thank heavens!), and was very interesting and friendly.  He ushered us over to one of about 6 small tables covered with white tablecloths and we sat down.  He talked to us about the history of the pearl market in Tahiti, and about the pearls themselves, how they are graded, how you can tell if they are real or fake, how to know if you are paying a fair price, etc.  He then asked us what grade of pearls we were looking for, etc.  Finally, of course, it comes down to how much money one is willing to spend and do you want to spend that amount for a smaller perfect pearl, or a larger pearl with some flaws. 

When he had an idea of what we were looking for he brought out a box of a hundred pearls or so and just dumped them out on the white tablecloth.  It was quite a sight, and I guess I was too dazzled to think about taking a picture.  He started sorted through them just as I remember kids doing with their collection of marbles, looking for ones that stood out from the rest because of their color or brilliance.  

We found some lovely pearls for our friends and then Jeff brought one for me.  I had it mounted in a simple setting while we waited so that I could wear it with a ring I often wear as a wedding band.  (Side note:  I do have a lovely diamond wedding set that I left at home just because I didn't want to take the chance of losing it or getting it stolen.  Instead I'm wearing a friendship ring Jeff bought me when we were dating over 45 years ago.)

Here is my pearl being mounted in the setting:

     And here is the end result:

I think our not-so-pleasant encounter with Papeete traffic was well worth the effort!  Now when I go home to Utah, and this amazing experience seems like it was just a dream, I'll have a beautiful ring to remind me that I was really here, half way around the world in French Polynesia, experiencing all the beauty of Tahiti and Moorea for myself.  What a blessing!