Sober Travel Tips for Mexico

Suggestions for sober traveling in Mexico.

AA Alamos

Today you'll find AA meetings in English wherever there is a sizable expat community. These tips are to help you stay sober when you can't find a meeting, or to prevent you from getting in trouble because of cultural differences. Remember - Mexicans in the tourist industry expect tourists to drink. So be wary.

For schedules of English-language AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) meetings in Mexico, Click for the All Mexico AA Database.

You'll find AA throughout Mexico, even in small towns. NA has a small presence in the larger towns. Alanon is almost everywhere. OA, SALA (or SLA)  and other programs are less likely to be encountered outside major cities. AA is very visible. You will see the circle and triangle hanging from a building,

Look for the AA symbol inside a triangle and a circle, on a blue background jutting out from buildings. I've even seen them as illuminated neon signs, so drunks can find their way in the dark!

Meetings are usually at 8:00 or 8:30 PM in Spanish. Even if you don't speak Spanish, you will be welcome and often asked to speak. This is true all over the world. Remember, you will always be welcome at a Spanish-speaking meeting, even if you don't speak the language. As an AA, you speak a universal language. I have been to meetings in Cuba, Europe and England (where they speak a foreign language, vaguely similar to English) and have always been welcome. Come to think of it, these are the only places where I can count on being welcome. Go ahead. It will do you good. Meetings last an hour and a half and there are often refreshments and birthdays are celebrated like here, except you might get tamales instead of cake or both. Have a ball.

Just like in the U.S., the locations change, so if a meeting is no longer where I said it was, you have two courses of action (aside from giving up and giving in). Believe me, looking for a meeting is often a better choice than going back to your hotel where the "Chug tequila till you barf" contest is going on. The first option is to check the local English-language newspaper if there is one. The second option is to find a Spanish meeting and ask.

One night I was in San Miguel de Allende and the English-language meeting had moved. I was ready to get drunk at my companion and was crestfallen. I wandered the late-night streets of town, bemoaning my fate. For some reason I looked up and I saw the familiar triangle in a circle. I was in front of a Mexican AA club. The meeting was over, but the guys there could see that I was in trouble. Six of us piled into a Volkswagen and went roaring down the midnight streets.

There I was, in a car of strangers who spoke no English (my Spanish was poor then), going to God knew where. A bar full of happy (?) Americans seemed a lot more inviting. Oh well. They took me to a midnight meeting. While I didn’t understand a word they said, I felt the companionship and caring that is universal. Those guys saved my life. So, if a meeting has moved since I wrote this, don’t use that as an excuse to get drunk. Get off the pity pot and find a meeting. Then let me know about any changes.

For Alanon and NA etc. these places will be able to direct you as well, though NA is not as "popular." You’ll be welcome at an AA meeting. There are two different types of AA in Mexico. One is "Grupo de 24 Horas" (24 hour group). These are more like institutional settings and the message here is hard core, "put the plug in the jug" type.

The other is more like what you are used to. Be prepared for 1½ hour long meetings, with long orations and lots of slang. They are very emotional. You will be asked to say something. Do your best and take care of yourself. If the above fails and you can't find a meeting, try putting up signs in your hotel and others about a meeting in your room. Then stay there.

While we are on the subject of drinking, forget the myth that some folks will tell you that it is offensive to refuse a drink offered by a Mexican. You can refuse to do anything you want if you do it politely. Many times Mexicans are only offering to share something with you because they are being polite. They would never expect you to do something that would cause you harm. If you simply say, "No gracias, no bebo cerveza (tequila, ron etc. or simply alcohól), pero me gusta un refresco," you'll probably get a soft drink instead and no one will be offended.

If the guy insists that you have a drink with him, be as polite as possible, and just as insistent. Plead illness, medication or whatever you are comfortable with. Saying soy alérgico a alcohol sometimes does the trick, but saying you are an alcoholic usually elicits a blank stare. If all fails, get up and walk away. Offending a drunk does not rank as a punishable offense in any country and you have to remember what's really important.

Before you sign up for a "bay cruise" or any boat trip, be aware that they are mostly excuses for excessive drinking and loud music. It's up to you - does that sound like a good time? Even launches to offshore attractions (like near Pto. Vallarta) are mini-booze cruises. My advice - if you really want to go somewhere by boat, hire the launch yourself. It might not be all that expensive and you will have a much more pleasant time.

Be especially careful ordering tonic water or agua quina in bars or restaurants. You'll often end up with gin and tonic, because the waiter thought you didn't speak Spanish well enough. Stick with agua mineral or Coke or 7-Up, or a local soft drink. There are some great local ones. Toni-Col on the west coast, especially near Mazatlan is one of the best. It does have caffeine, so if you are trying to avoid that, you’d best avoid Toni-Col, but darn, it is good. It’s rather like a vanilla Coke.

When asking if a dish has alcohol in it, be sure to ask if it has wine, too. For some reason, wine is not considered alcohol by waiters. Often they will say, "Oh, no, there is no alcohol, only a little wine." I've read enough scientific studies to know that it does not cook out under normal cooking. Even if you don't believe that to be true at home, believe it in Mexico. Why take the chance?

Coffees with fancy names like "Sexy, Spanish, German or Lithuanian (just kidding about the last one)" are suspect. If the price is more than plain coffee (Americano or negro or cafe con leche), then it is a booze drink. It’s rare, but I have had Amaretto poured over flan, the great dessert. Always use the sniff test before eating anything with a sauce on it. If you accidentally imbibe something with booze spit it out and don't worry about it. It happens to the best of us. Just don't take a second swig or taste and forget about it.

If you have an AA medallion or ring and wear it, you'll be surprised at the people you'll meet.

That's all the sobriety wisdom I have and I hope it helps at least one person. The main thing to remember is that you are not alone even in Mexico and that you can still have a great trip and not lose your program.

Spanish for "meeting" is "reunión" or "sesión".