Tag Archives: mangareva

Kirimiro Tunnel

KIRIMIRO: A Gentle 6.7-mile walk

It was time to move our legs, so we gathered the troops and picked a trail.  For the first hike, we decided to hike the Tunnel trail called Kirimiro which is in the center of the island and takes you across to the other side of Mangareva.  With us today: Agape: Josh, Rachel and Wilky and Halcyon: John and Becca.

Start of Kirimiro Hike

Start of Kirimiro Hike

As you can see, we had some outstanding views along the way.

View from Kirimiro Hike

View from Kirimiro Hike

Our anchorage was pretty crowded with almost 30 boats squeezing in between the reefs.  It is pretty amazing to see so many boats in this tiny anchorage.  The bottom photo is a pearl farm just off a large reef.

View from Kirimiro Hike

View from Kirimiro Hike

We found the little tunnel (or bridge) which was a bit anti-climactic.

Kirimiro Tunnel

Kirimiro Tunnel

The coolest part of this hike was searching for fresh fruit.  Pomplemouse is abundant here and can be found on the side of the road.  It is a cross between a grapefruit and an orange.  We procured several coconuts, and avocados as well.

Coconut Hunting

Coconut Hunting

Matt found a huge stalk of bananas that we will share amongst 3 boats.  The top photo has Matt carrying it over his shoulder but that grew tiresome quickly so we took turns having two people carry it at a time.  The lower left corner photo has Wilky on Josh’s shoulders with a machete attached to a long stick.  They were attempting to get one avocado.  We didn’t get it.

Banana Hunting

Banana Hunting

The boys sharing the load of our bounty.

Sharing the load

Sharing the load

Overall it was a great day.  We walked 6.7 miles, 17,117 steps and 83 floors.  A super day to be outside.

Hand-Carved Oyster Shell

The Art of Hand Carving Oyster Shells

I met Stefan, a local teacher and designer of stunning hand-carved oyster shells. He had an amazing display of carved oyster shells at the Heritage Festival.  I was mesmerized immediately, but having just arrived was reluctant to drop any money on souvenirs. We chatted in broken French/English and I instantly liked him.  He told me where he lived so I could look at his entire collection.

My new friends decided to come with me to visit Stefan, after I shared my enthusiasm about his work.  They too were intrigued and wanted to see more.  So, we set out to find Stefan.  Behind the blue church, across a small bridge, and down the street we arrived at his house and studio.

Stefan’s Hand-Carved Oyster Shell Business

He and his wife just started a small business a few months ago.  When we arrived, they put out a black table cloth and lovingly laid out each of the 40+ unique, hand-carved oyster shells.  Some were carved on the outside, some on the inside, and a few on both sides.  He used pearls as legs to raise some of the shells as well.

You can see a larger collection of Stefan’s work on Instagram @Gambierscarving.

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It is difficult to imagine how they are able to carve such intricate designs onto these extremely fragile shells.

They are playing around with new designs as well.  Check out this lamp with the St. Michael church.

Oyster Shell Light

Oyster Shell Light

He is also carving individual pearls.  This is a new Tahitian trend that is becoming wildly popular.

Hand carved pearls

Hand carved pearls

In addition to the hand-carved oyster shells and pearls, he also had a warrior necklace and local honey for sell.  By the time we were all done, the group had purchased 15 items from him and put a large dent in his inventory.  He had invited us back the next day to see how the carving process was done.

Early the next day, 6 of us headed back to Stefan’s house.

The Process of Carving an Oyster Shell

  • Stefan purchases bags of oyster shells and discards the damaged and broken ones. The remaining shells are left in a pile in his yard, by his shop for future master pieces.
  • The shells are then scrubbed clean on both sides.
  • Then the exterior is sanded down
  • Buffed to a pretty shine (both sides)
  • Designed (pencil first, then ink)
  • Carved
  • Buffed
  • Ready to sell
Process of Carving an Oyster Shell

Process of Carving an Oyster Shell

A gift to visiting delegates

Stefan is presenting a gift to a group of politicians coming to the island.  It is an oyster shell sitting on top of another shell.  And oh how I wished to be the recipient of one of those stunning pieces.  We watched as his worker drew the design on one of the shells.  The photo below shows her drawing the design (upper left), a damaged shell that was punctured) and the final shell (bottom)

Intricate Designs

Intricate Designs

Trying my hand at carving

He let me have a go at trying to carve a shell.  It was really difficult to use the dremel on such a delicate shell.  But, I managed not to damage me or the shell.  It didn’t look really pretty, but I made it.

Trying my hand at carving

Trying my hand at carving

Stefan had a container full of “discarded” or “bad” pearls.  We did not understand how can a pearl be so bad that it is relegated to a container or vase?  They have funny shapes, colors, no luster or odd sizes.  He graciously allowed us to select 10 pearls each!

Stefan and his collection

Stefan and his collection

And as a special bonus for bringing so many people to his home to purchase his wares, he provided me with a beautiful, personalized oyster shell of my own.

Sugar Shack's Oyster Shell

Sugar Shack’s Oyster Shell

Stefan became a great friend to all of us.  He introduced us to many local resources, shared plenty of meals, enjoyed a few BBQ’s and created lots of god memories.

That’s just a smidgeon of the kindness we have received in the Gambiers.  The locals are kind, the island is beautiful, and life is good.

Here are few of Stefan’s amazing pieces of art:

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Did you miss our blog on French Polynesia Pearls?  Click here.

Pearls of French Polynesia

Pearls of French Polynesia

The Tahitian Pearl is born in the lagoons of French Polynesia and is recognized around the world.  They are amazingly beautiful, seductive, and mesmerizing.  Many, if not most of the locals wear them with pride.  Small children, airport cleaning staff, shop keepers, and women of all ages proudly display their pearl collection with t-shirts, shorts and flip flops.  It is said that the most colorful pearls come from the Gambiers because of their cooler waters.

NATURES PROCESS

How is a pearl created in its natural habitat?  It occurs when a small grain of sand penetrates inside the pearl bearing oyster.  The oyster cannot expel the intruder and begins its attack.  This defense is in the form of a pearly secretion around the grain of sand which forms the pearl.

THE CULTURED PEARL

The “cultured pearl” is a jewel of the sea.  It is the result of the coordinated efforts between nature, man, and the mother-of-pearl.  The process to create a “cultured pearl” is a bit more of an adventure and an intrusion to the oyster. The cultured pearl is formed in a similar way, except with the intervention of man.  The local pearl farmer will introduce a nucleus into the oyster and then let nature take its place.

In order to grow larger pearls, the farmer will extract a small pearl growing inside the oyster and insert a nucleus of the same size.  It takes 14-18 months to grow a pearl and each oyster can grow 4-5 cultured pearls over the course of its life.

There are over 200 pearl farmers in the Gambiers.  We met a few local pearl farmers, Eric and Eugene (Dada Keck) in Mangareva who showed us around each of their farms.  Eric and his son have a pretty large operation on a small island called Gaioio (just off Totegeie and east of Mangareva).  He sells between 200-250k pearls a year, mostly to China.

Eric and his son Eric’s island and house.  Their house, pearl farm, and worker lodgings take up the entire island.

Pearl Farm off Totegegie

Pearl Farm off Totegegie

While Eugene has a smaller operation off the east side of Mangareva and produces about 100k pearls a year.

Eugene’s Pearl Farm is located over the water like most of the pearl farms in FP.

Another Pearl Farm over water

Another Pearl Farm over water

Farming Pearls

About 15 oyster shells are placed in nets and submerged 5-10 meters under water.  They are strategically placed to receive the most sun.  The color of the pearl and the shell will be determined by the amount of sun received and the strength of the oyster to open and close to receive the sun.  If the shell is primarily green, then the pearl will be green.  See the nets to the left of the worker.

Working on nets for pearl harvesting

Working on nets for pearl harvesting

Each net is removed from the water and cleaned with a pressure washer every 3 months.  Cleaning the oyster shells helps them access sun and food easier and allows them to thrive better within the nets.

Cleaning the pearls shells in between harvesting

Cleaning the pearls shells in between harvesting

Here is a little collage that includes several steps:

  1. Oysters are collected in blue mesh bags (top, left corner image).
  2. They are cleaned and placed in a plastic, long, circular, corrugated tube and placed back in the ocean (top right corner image).
  3. Shells are prepped for cleaning (middle image).
  4. After harvest, shells are shipped off island.
Harvesting the Cultured Pearl

Harvesting the Cultured Pearl

CREATING A PEARL

A skilled worker will carefully open the oyster, less than a ½ inch, to insert the nucleus.  The worker will then place the oyster shell back in the water for 14-18 months.  The oyster will live through several harvest season, if it is bearing quality pearls.

Cultured Pearl Nucleus Insertion

Cultured Pearl Nucleus Insertion

Polynesians use all aspects of the oyster once the oyster is beyond pearl bearing age.  Polynesians will use the meat for food and will prepare the oyster shells to be sold off island.  Pearl farmers make about $50 per bag which weighs up to 60 kilos!  That is a LOT of oyster shells for very little money.

HARVESTING THE PEARL

When the oyster is ready, the workers will collect the nets, remove the shells and carefully separate the pearls and meat from the shells.  Eugene let us each dig inside the meat to remove the pearl.  He then cut out the oyster to give us each a taste.

Learning how to extract pearls

Learning how to extract pearls

Living on a boat doesn’t scream for pearl jewelry.   However strong the desire is to purchase one.  Tourists can purchase pearls for 1/20th the price in the Gambiers.  So, how do you determine a quality pearl?

How to Define the Quality of a Tahitian Pearl

Once it is certain that the pearly layer is sufficient, the experts consider 5 other classification criteria’s:

  1. Luster and shine
  2. Color
  3. Size (8-12mm)
  4. Shape (round, drop, baroque, circled)
  5. Surface quality (listed A, B, C, D)

We went to visit a pearl vendor who sold pearl jewelry out of his commercial kitchen.  Yep, right next to the pots and pans was a small display of pearl jewelry.  But what was truly interesting was another display of his prized relics or artifacts that he has been collecting for 50 years.  The unusual thing was that the display looked like a mismatch of stuff until you looked closely.

He had a chief’s whale bone necklace (displayed by my friend Wilky from Agape), a precious tiara that his wife wore at their wedding (worn by Rachel from Agape) and many more stunning pieces.  He also had 3 large vases full of lose pearls.  Because, why not put precious pearls inside a vase?

French Polynesia Ancestral Jewelry

French Polynesia Ancestral Jewelry

One can buy loose pearls for as little as $2-$18 here.  But then you have to know what you are looking for and have to find someone to make it into jewelry.  And it is great to see how resourceful the Polynesians are with regards to the pearls.  It is obvious they each take great pride in their pearls.