“Jean told me to make sure you didn’t buy any more molas,” our daughter Beth smiled as she passed on her sister’s command. It appeared as if we were in the middle of an intervention, an intervention to save us from our perceived mola addiction. At least in our daughters’ opinions we had exceeded our mola limit.
But, we are getting ahead of ourselves. The second of Life’s Persistent Questions” identified in our January 12 blog, was “What’s a mola, and how many molas are too many molas?” With all due respect to our daughters, one can hardly answer the second part of the question without answering the first. So, here goes.
A mola, is a traditional Kuna craft consisting of fine needle work on colored fabric. Molas depict animals, Kuna history, biblical stories, or abstract designs. As was the case with the lobster, molas are typically sold in the anchorages by Kunas in ulus, some powered by paddle or motor.
There are three master mola makers in Guna Yala.
Venancio, one of the masters, motored beside Elizabeth Jean at 8:00 our first morning in the San Blas. If there are worms to be caught in Guna Yala, Venancio is the early bird who will catch them. After I explained that we were still waking up, he scheduled a return visit for 9:00. Once aboard our vessel, Venancio began unloading his art from several large plastic garbage cans and spreading them around our cockpit. For each mola he asked us to say whether it was a “no” or “maybe.”
Only after we had a hefty stack of “maybes” would Venancio talk price. The total for the stack would blow a big hole in the cruising kitty. So began the slow and painful process of turning “maybes” into “nos.” Three hours later, we were the proud owners of 9 of the master’s molas. Although we had greatly reduced the hole in the cruising kitty, we emailed our daughters a short message, “bring more cash.”
Lisa, another of the masters, motored up to us when we were anchored at Salardup, a pretty island a couple of hours sail from the East Lemons, our San Blas base. The quality of her ulu and her attire evidenced her financial success and attention to detail. Max and Jean acquired several smaller panels as gifts for Max’s mother.
Lisa was gracious and personable, traits that help in her other business, guiding trips up the River Sidra near her home on the mainland.
In addition of these two masters, we became regular customers of Hermelinda and her daughter, who paddled their ulu through the Banedup anchorage every day regardless of how hard the trade winds blew. We were fortunate to be able to visit Hermelinda and her family at their home and conclude our shopping.
Hermilinda’s mother, the matriarch on their little island. When Eulalie asked if she could take a picture, the matriarch allowed this one.
“What of the third master?” you ask. The third master does not come to the anchorages. Interested buyers, as is the case with the mountain and Mohammed, must come to the master. Even without our daughters’ intervention this trip was not on our to-do-list.
At 8:00 on our last morning in the San Blas, a tapping on our hull surprised us. Climbing up into the cockpit we saw Venancio, his slight figure peering over Elizabeth Jean’s cap rail. We politely informed him that we had all the molas we would be getting. When we told him we would be departing Guna Yala, he sounded surprised and a bid sad as he repeated aloud the words of our departure.
So, how many molas are too many? As is the case with the lobster, our mola consumption was robust, but not excessive. Our encounters with the mola masters and other mola makers enriched our San Blas experience and are sure to bring back powerful memories once we have swallowed the anchor.