Stories from the Road

I started a little recurring piece over at On the Trail last week called "Stories from the Road," where I share experiences or funny stories that have happened while traveling for K&L that normally don't make the blog or newsletter. I thought I'd do the same here on the spirits blog when something comes to mind from time to time. I was advising a customer about travel in Oaxaca this morning and I made sure to warn him about altitude sickness because drinking large amounts of high-proof spirit up in the mountains can be hazardous to your health. How do I know? I'll tell you...

It was the final night of my 2015 trip to Oaxaca with Los Danzantes and I was out in Oaxaca City having dinner with the gang from the distillery. A few final shots of mezcal for the road, then back to the hotel room for an early night as my flight was leaving at 6 AM the following morning. I played it totally safe: nothing weird to eat and not more than I might normally drink on a work night. The problem, however, is that I was dehydrated from five days of consumption, not just my current efforts. As I soon learned, dehydration plays a key role in altitude sickness and I had somehow completely overlooked the fact that Oaxaca is over 5,000 feet above sea level.

I remember waking up at around 3 AM feeling absolutely terrible—not throw-up naseous as one might feel after drinking too much, but rather a deeper and more permeating sense of fatigue and fever. I had cramps in my stomach and I knew something was dreadfully wrong. Deciding to get up rather than lie there in agony, I swung my legs over the side of the bed and made for the bathroom, but instantly I took a header and collapsed into the hard tile of the hotel room floor. I was dizzy, short of breath, and my heart rate was through the roof. I made a slow effort to get back to my hands and knees, while I sat there taking deep breaths, trying to figure out what in the hell was wrong with me. I was scared and somewhat panicked thinking not just only about my condition, but also how I was going to get on a plane in just a few hours. That's when I recalled having heard about similar experiences in Denver from friends of mine who had partied too hard in the Mile High City. How high above sea level was Oaxaca, anyway? According to Google, about 1,555 meters—right in the danger zone. That's when I knew I needed H20—stat.

I remained in dire condition for about forty-five minutes, doing my best to take in as much water as I could. At around 4:45, when I was scheduled to leave for the airport, I was just barely well enough to leave and with some Tylenol and saltine crackers I was able to get on the plane as planned. It was close, however. 

If you're going to Oaxaca to drink mezcal and party at the various mezcalerias throughout the city, make sure you drink plenty of water. You don't hear many veterans talk about altitude sickness when recounting their professional travel experiences in Mexico, but it's a real thing. Take it from me.

-David Driscoll

David Driscoll