Drinks and the desert



There are many kinds of pilgrimages taking place in various parts of the world – most are spiritual in the religious sense, yet some are spiritual in the sense of finding inner peace and oneself. For the latter, such journey may arise without prior intent and can happen anywhere and under any circumstances.




Burning Man 2014

Recently, I found myself deep in a Nevada desert for the annual Burning Man festival – an excursion that turned out to be a 10+ day pilgrimage. ‘Burning Man‘ is a week-long celebration that takes place on a playa of a dried up lake bed in Nevada, bearing the name Black Rock Desert. This event is a world-wonder and a world-of-wonder as it is the ultimate display of human ingenuity channeled mainly through art, radical self-expression and engineering feats (in the realm of art) manifested in art installations, costumes and modified (mutant) vehicles – all of which comes completely from within and without being commercial. The currency of ‘the playa’ is generosity and happiness; nothing can be bought or sold (except ice and coffee) and so-called ‘gifting’ economy takes hold – biking through the temporary city and playa, offerings of breakfast, cookies, slushies’, hugs, drinks…..etc. without wanting anything in return (perhaps just gratefulness and hug) are common. Burning Man is a place where anyone will find what they are searching for, even your inner self.


“Despite wanting to share my personal experiences at this one-of-a-kind event, it is outside the scope of this blog and the focus here is mainly on alcoholic drinks in the desert.”


Perhaps these pictures will better describe the Burning Man experience


Complete high-resolution Google picture gallery can be viewed here.


Drinks & the harsh desert environment

My pilgrimage was enhanced by the help of alcohol in the form of multiple beverage choices, and as not all drinks are suitable for the desert heat, I would like to share what I have learned herein. When choosing what alcoholic beverages to bring, the most important factor in decision-making is whether access to ice is an option and if so, for how long.
In the desert, dehydration is real problem and can become life threatening so noticing and acting on the early signs becomes crucial to one’s well-being. Dehydration is a combination of bodily liquid loss coupled with electrolyte level dip and early signs include headache, drop in mood, dizziness and fatigue and must be dealt with immediately to avoid longer lasting consequences. More severe signs include nausea, vomiting, shaking/feeling chills and severe ones manifest as hallucinations and loss of consciousness. Alcohol has two properties not suitable and quite dangerous for the desert – it is a diuretic (increases the rate of dehydration) and a depressant (numbs early warning signs of dehydration) and so its use must be moderated and accompanied with hydration and electrolyte replenishment.




Choice #1: Water – it is THE commodity in the desert and nothing is more valuable. Its use is not only limited to drinking and cooking with; washing, showering and making friends by sharing it with the-less-prepared are amongst the other top uses – 2.5 gallons (10L) per day per person are recommended, but why not bring 3 gallons. Water can be mixed with Gatorade powder to replenish one’s electrolytes lost due to constant sweating. I recommend Gatorade powder opposed to the premixed drinks as sweetness can be adjusted to one’s individual taste (when warm, moderate flavor tastes better than warm water or fully sweet premix). As Gatorade does not contain any Calcium, a mineral utilized at thousand-fold higher amounts than other salts, Calcium Carbonate tablets by the brand name Tums, should be taken throughout the day to replenish the levels.
Choice #2: Beer (if ice is available) – any kind and every kind as long as there is variety. Beer is low in alcohol and abundant in nutrients and electrolytes = lesser of the evils. In case of more severe dehydration evidenced by vomiting, beer can be a lifesaver as the alcohol numbs these unwanted responses and allows water/Gatorade to be ingested and held down.
Choice #3: Cesar or Bloody Mary – Tomato or Clamato juices are high in salts and electrolytes, bonus is that it tastes great even when warm; drawback is that generous pours of vodka can be quite dangerous.
Choice #4: White wine – the key here is bring only DRY, NON-SPARKLING whites as anything sweet becomes unpalatable in the desert heat (unless shared with many people = quick consumption). Oaked Chardonnays perform better than other whites due to milder acidity and are more palatable at warmer temperatures.
Choice #5: Red wine – the temperatures in the evening drastically drop, creating conditions that warrant bringing on the red wine. Any type/varietal is good as long as it is fine wine (a sipper) – you haven’t trekked across the world to drink barely palatable wine just because you wanted to save $10. Superb tasting wine under ideal conditions will have its ‘taste’ profile subdued as the near-zero desert humidity increases the volatility of aromatic compounds within the wine, so they spend less time sensitizing olfactory receptors within the nose.
Choice #6: Hard liquor meant to be consumed sans mix – in the desert, intoxication happens lot faster due to ongoing dehydration and so drinking hard liquor straight up is NOT recommended – stay away.




The above mentioned precautions and self-discipline ensured that not once did I get dehydrated or suffered from alcohol excess. This meant that with 5 hours of sleep, I was fresh and ready to explore all of the surrounding wonders.


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