This is a modern Mola and a funny design with obviously also a certain story behind of it : In the centre you will see Uncle Sam with his ears wide open in order to be able to hear what that lady on the right is talking over the phone with the man on the left.
On the top left is a US-warship and on the top right is a picture that reminds me of a person I have seen on a Dollar-bill.
I bought this Mola in 1985, that was a time, when the USA were is posession of the Panama-Canal and some surrounding areas, but all of that was given back to Panama in the year 2000.
And 2 more Molas with a traditional design as my last pictures here !
Take a walk on the island and you will see a lot of poor huts and very basic standarts of life there untill you get around the corner and you will see all of a sudden the neon-light-advertisments for a famous softdrink from America !
That thing was funny for me to see in the very first moment, but of course it is also a symbol for the fact that modern life - in all its sad side-effects - has reached these remote island already.
There was nobody there in this basic "restaurant" and obviously they never had a big business there, BUT the beginnings were made and electricity was there as well !
Molas are the most beautiful and also quite the only kind of souvenir that you will be able to buy on the San Blas Islands.
Molas are colorfull works of art, made by stripes of cloth, with different colors, sewed and fixed in a very special way stripe by stripe in order to make great decorations - just like on my pictures !
Originally these Molas were made as decorations on the front and backside of the shirts that the Kuna-ladies wore, but you will hardly get these for sale that way. Instead you get single Molas and may put them behind glass like a painting or make cushions out of them.
I have a collection of about 20 such Molas of all sizes at home and all those shown in this page are in my posession.
Only 50 of the 365 San Blas islands are inhabited by a local tribe called Kuna and it was strange for me to learn that the island where our cruiseship-tenders took us is normally uninhabited as well, but every time a cruiseships goes there, the Kuna get there in their small canoes in order to show their islands and sell their Molas, and when the cruiseships have left they will leave the island as well and go home again.
There is a total of just 25.000 Kuna living on these islands and they have their own language, called „Kuna Yala“.
The San Blas Islands were one of my favorite destinations, when I was working onboard the cruiseships M/S Sagafjord and M/S Vistafjord between 1979 and 1985.
The San Blas Islands are a group of 365 mostly quite small islands, some of them are only 20 metres wide with a lonely palmtree on it - these looked exactly like the islands drawn for an "island-joke".
The island that most of the cruiseships are going to is a bit bigger, with a small village on it.
The villages consists of typical thatched roofed huts packed on the small area of the island. They lack many facilities especially toilets so they use the little wooden huts built at the end of the wharfs and drop their wastes in to the sea. So don't swim near the inhabited islands although the sea seems to be very clean. Wait for your boat to take you to the remote ones. On the central island there is the school and the Mayor's house which is unacceptably built in concrete just to show off !!
You are generally welcome to go around and have a look at the houses, but more so if you buy their products. Molas can be seen in front of every house waiting to be picked up by the future buyer. Some tourists are crazy about them and buy them by the dozen. To tell you the truth I am not very enthusiastic so I bought only one, which is still hidden in its original bag. But anyway, it is really something that needs a lot of patience and time to be made.
Molas are considered of the most precious handicrafts in Latin America.
A 'mola' is made of multiple layers of cloths of different colours.. Then each cloth is cut in a way that reveals the layer beneath. They are patiently embroidered with traditional designs, which are geometrical shapes , or designs of animals which are made for tourists. Then they use it to make bags, purses, clothes, pillows, head covers, covers for different objects and are hung on the walls for decoration. The price for a really good mola is 20$ but you can find cheaper ones as low as 10$.
Now what makes a mola good or cheap is the way it has been processed. So look for these:
1 The designs should be balanced and the spaces filled.
2 The lines should be thin and evenly spaced, with smooth edges.
3 Stiches should be small, even, and almost invisible.
4 The design should stand out and be easy to see, which is largely a matter of proper use of contrast and colour.
5 The more layers of cloth it has the more expensive.
Click on photo
Porvenir is the capital of San Blas. It is the Kuna's window to the world as it houses their small airport. The airway takes up almost all the length of the small island. The airport building is of typical Kuna construction. There is a small museum nearby where a few old items of every day use are exhibited and a typical Kuna grave. The entrance is 5$ and the money goes to the community.
There is a not so good, cheap hotel which you can use as a base for your trips around if you are on a low budget.
Click to see photos of the museum
The natives sell their wares wherever tourists might be found. Various colourful, hand-made crafts are available to be purchased at a bartered price, as well as postcards and other items that may interest tourists.
Not for the water-weary! We took what looked like a large canoe with a motor at the back from the main island to a beach island. The boat operator had insisted that it was a 15 minute ride to a nearby island, but in reality our beach island destiny was a small dot on the horizon! With no life jackets in the middle of the ocean, it was a bit scary at first, but after a while it was ok and I just enjoyed the ride in partial disbelief that I was in this tiny boat in the middle of nowhere. The beach island was uninhabited, really beautiful and relaxing. We sat in the shade of the palms and swam in the water until it was time to retun. All in all a fun adventure.
Unfortunately I can't remember the name of the main island we were on, but I'm assuming few of them are accessible to tourists, so it could only be one of a select few. These islands are small, so finding anything shouldn't be too difficult.