Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Traveling Back in Time

I’ve made the most wonderful new friend electronically through another Blogger. She lives in Florida, so I’m not sure when we will actually meet, but we have been getting to know one another through e-mail.

We have several similarities in our lives. Among them, we both grew up in Panama City, although mine was in Florida and hers was in Panama.

Our exchange reminded me of my visits to Panama in the mid-70's to provide technical assistance on processing the Censo de Tonosi, a census of an area of Panama. We worked extremely hard during the week, struggling to do all our work in Spanish. But the weekends were our own.

One weekend my friend Linda and I decided to visit the San Blas Islands, specifically Pidertupo, an island the size of a football field that had no running water. It was a resort owned by Tom and Joan Moody.

Just getting there required flying on the smallest plane I have ever seen. It seemed like we hovered just above the water or the trees and I white-knuckled it the whole way there. The plane landed in the middle of nowhere and Mr. Moody picked us up in a boat as the plane took off again.

The place turned out to have gourmet food, including local lobster that was to die for. They managed to get through the year on rainwater, one dry year requiring them to drain their waterbed to get by. Their 10-year-old daughter was home-schooled of necessity.

This was my first snorkeling experience, my first trek through the jungle, my first time to use a shower that simply dumped a bucket of water over your head. It was primitive, but so satisfying.

Before leaving Panama, I ended up buying several molas, handmade by the Kuna Indians of the San Blas Islands. I found the one in the picture above tucked away in a box in my sewing room.

Thanks to my new friend E. for reminding me about a time so long ago when I went on quite an adventure.

Unfortunately the nirvana of Pidertupo was eventually shattered for the Moodys. In this article, they recall how their San Blas paradise became an inferno that nearly cost Tom his life. An unexpected attack by terrorists caused them to move to Fiji, where they opened another resort.

Here is a photo from E's collection of Indian women attired in clothing made using molas:


Blogger bulletholes said...

i have a Mola! My brother was in Panama during the '70's with the Army Corps of Engineers. Dave Mows Grass spent his first few years there.
I love my mola! aren't they supposed to bring good luck to the household?
Yours is cool! Mine is a Llama, I think.

9:26 AM  
Blogger Lemmonex said...

Barbara, you have lived such an awesome life.

9:31 AM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Bulletholes -- Are you sure yours isn't a donkey? (Just kidding...)

Yes, I love my molas. I wonder how many hours it took some little Indian woman to make each of them. I never heard about the good luck quality, but it never hurts.

Lemmonex -- I do love to look back on the crazy things I have done over the years. They define who I am today.

11:48 AM  
Blogger Steve said...

Wow, what a chilling story! (The newspaper article.) It's great that you were able to visit the island while it was still a peaceful resort. It sounds like it must have been beautiful.

1:39 PM  
Blogger e said...

Panama was and remains a beautiful country that has become quite the tourist and retirement destination for American and other expats.

Resorts and hotels, however, bring with them loads of tourists, many of whom show little regard for local culture or history.

The Kuna, and their island homes, continue to be threatened by encroaching development, slash and burn of the rainforests by those wanting to raise cattle or farm, among other things.

Molas, which most of us use as wall hangings or other decoration, are made to sell to foreigners for income, but are worn by the Kuna themselves as blouses or other items of clothing. High quality, thickly layered Molas are usually sewn by hand and are not often sold to tourists.

If anyone would like more information on the Kuna culture and arts, I have a bibliography.
I also have several Molas, one of which is a cat!

2:06 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Steve -- I was shocked to hear what happened several years after my visit. I remember it as one of the most peaceful places I have ever been. I have never felt closer to nature.

E. -- I'm sure you have an insider's view of what it was like to live in Panama. I enjoyed all the tourist things like traveling to the islands and imbibing those wonderful drinks made from fruits like the chirimoya that we never see here. It was an interesting blend of American culture and Panamanian culture.

I would be happy to post one of your pictures of mola attire with your permission.

2:30 PM  
Blogger Kristin said...

I'm with lemmonex. Definitely an awesome life. Fascinating.

4:45 PM  
Blogger lettuce said...

what a great experience to have had

8:37 AM  

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