Electric Ghosts of Pachamama

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Electric Ghosts of Pachamama, by Michael Molyneaux
Electric Ghosts of Pachamama, by Michael Molyneux

Pachamama: Love, Myth, and Exploration in Latin America

Electric Ghosts of Pachamama comprises both an intellectual and a physical journey. It is a fascinating collection of true stories about love, exploration, and myth in Latin America.

Michael Molyneux crisscrossed 10,000 miles of the South American wilderness and here shows us that the travelogue can voyage deeply in time, as well as widely in space. He explores a continent’s cultural landscapes, examines the nature of human restlessness and reflects on the ecstasies and trappings of the writing life. The result is a sensual portrait of a wild continent and an incisive study of love, human suffering and the anguish of desire.

Electric Ghosts of Pachamama documents a lonesome journey to the remote interiors of the mind and dark corners of the human heart, via the Peruvian Cordillera, deserted strips of paradise in Ecuador, volcanic salt-flats in Bolivia, windswept grasslands in Patagonia and the uttermost part of the earth, Tierra Del Fuego. It is written in a style as intriguing and captivating as the places with which it is concerned.

Michael Molyneaux
Michael Molyneux

Sex-obsessed government officials; psychedelic trips in the wilderness; near-death experiences; the sublime chore of daily meditation; ancient Inca mythology; and the forgotten ecstasies of love, lead the author and reader towards the elusive dark heart of the Latin American dream.

Excerpt from the book: Passing Through Montañita, Guatemala

The stretch of coastline around Montañita is formed of windswept cliff-tops, forest villages and sandy beaches where the waves break far out and come in slow.

At night, the sound of the ocean is drowned out by the reggaeton music from the beachfront clubs. In the morning the streets are littered with last night’s drunks. Everywhere you look you’re sentenced by a bloodshot gaze. People become fragile shadows if they spend more than three days here, as many do, going without sleep and replacing food with the relentless pursuit of liquor and depraved acts of copulation.

Stoned surfer girls with desolate eyes and salty yellow hair, spent-up tourists, and gaunt Argentinian drifters line the curbs, stalking the street with wild eyes that flex with an uneasy sorrow. They sell just enough handmade jewelry to keep them in fish-head soup and marijuana.

I saw one unpleasantly-white German family who must have been given bad information. They looked horrified. Their eyes paralyzed with fear. They sat on wooden stools meekly assessing the scene, looking paler than milk bottles and as out of place at the bar.

Smell of Sex and Rum

Tonight will be a garish mirror-image of last night: the smell of sex and rum will blend in the evening air and bass drums will shake the ground. Out on the beach, people will pass a bottle and a guitar around little fires until dawn. You will see silver rags in the shallows and not know whether they’re moonlight-crested waves or the tattered clothes of those who’ve waded out naked to urinate or kiss or stroll in the sea.

The cutest little Ecuadorian girls in jeans and bikinis, full of unintended grace are, by midnight, stripped of all sensuousness and wear pale death-masks of themselves. The lust and sorrow and feelings of guilt of hundreds of electric ghosts become visible in the rolled-back whites of their eyes.

There is sex everywhere. Packs of depraved underfed animals disinterestedly sniff each other’s sunburnt haunches. To make it through the madness three things are essential: 1) a good pair of dark sunglasses, 2) a daily swim in the Pacific 3) the occasional sane talk of a new arrival.

Two young girls walking out across the shallows at low tide on the Indonesian island of Gili Air. Michael Molyneaux photos.
Two young girls walking out across the shallows at low tide on the Indonesian island of Gili Air. Michael Molyneaux photos.

It’s almost bliss, but there’s something flawed. It’s like Goa, but with too much tequila and plastic jewelry and not enough tea and yoga. The mentality of Montañita is so grossly atavistic that it’s possible to spend the night with a girl, walk past her on the street the next day and have no recollection of the beautiful and terrible things you did together or – if you do remember – feel no guilt, as you look at her and her new man, about being seen with the new girl who is now on your arm.

There’s usually a point at which excess leads not to the palace of wisdom but to the piss-soaked gutters of reality; when the smell of the rum becomes sour and offensive.

When the lovers, lost in the weightless shadows of their embrace, howl as they did in the Paris bordellos of the 1800’s: in an orgy of slow desperate moans that makes it hard to distinguish pleasure from sickness and easy to mistake night for death, the airless garrets swollen with the sweet-bitter stench of syphilis and absinthe.

The turning point for me came when I was standing on the shore, watching the shadows of strange sea-birds circling overhead. They wheeled around silhouetted by the intestines of a pale dawn sky and ascended like souls departing. I caught sight of myself in a window reflection, hollow-eyed, carrier of a sickness that has existed since long before man.

I was about to say to the others that it gave birth, in fact, this virus we call love, to man out of the darkness. But I only thought it. I looked down at my two withered hands I could no longer feel and I knew I was doomed and that all humanity was doomed. The terrible screeching of the birds filled the void and, as though from a great distance, I heard my voice say it was time for us to lay down.

As I watched the bus carry my friends away – whether it was the hangover or the sunlight or the sadness of one too many farewells in this too-huge world we’re all vaulted in – the knot in my throat made it impossible to lift the weight of my hand to wave. Instead, without words, I said goodbye in my heart and watched the bus shrink down the road until it became a tiny speck on the horizon. I thought of Sanne’s clear blue eyes, more beautiful than the sea.