Travelers to Bali and the surrounding holiday islands are being warned about the dangers of methanol poisoning. Late last week, a traveler from Germany was out partying on Gili Trawangan when he became incredibly ill. Fortunately, due to the help of good samaritans and social media, the 31-year-old will make a recovery. It is yet another reminder to travelers to Bali to stay safe while drinking alcohol.
The traveler, who wishes to keep his name out of the press, was saved by a seemingly counterintuitive solution to his methanol poisoning. The backpacker had been staying in Gili Trawangan and was returning to his hostel at around 3 am.
According to reporters, he ran into some locals who were also up drinking, and they offered him a shot of local arak. Arak is a rice-based spirit that is often homemade. Alcohol percentages can range from 20-50%. However, the presence of methanol has been detected in these home-brewed spirits on a number of occasions.
While the traveler cites the local arak as the cause of the problem, there is no way of knowing whether the methanol poisoning was caused by any other hard liquor he consumed that night. Potentially poisonous spirits are found at clubs and bars across Bali. There is no intention to cause harm, and often bartenders and landlords would have no way of knowing that seemingly legitimate liquor bottles contain methanol until it’s too late.
Speaking to YahooNews, the traveler said ‘I thought that was kind of a nice experience, drinking with the locals – their so-called arak…I woke up the next day at 12pm in my hostel, felt like s**t.’ Assuming he had a rough hangover, the traveler returned to bed, not waking until mid-afternoon. He started experiencing diarrhea, and developed tunnel vision which was the final straw.
He knew something was very wrong. In a panic, he looked for a contact number for medical assistance. On a flyer in the hostel dorm, he read ‘’Be aware what you drink, it might be poisoned’, followed by the symptoms of methanol poisoning.
While the hostel helped the traveler get medical assistance, he claimed that the medic brushed the case off as a bad hangover. Knowing intuitively that something more was going on, the German traveler tried to get hold of anyone else who may be able to help. He reached out to a friend who is a doctor but was unable to reach them.
He told reporters, ‘I can’t remember to ever having that much fear … Like I was afraid to die’. Still panicked and needing to get himself to a bigger hospital, the traveler managed to board the fast boat back to Bali. During the crossing and despite his symptoms he came across a Facebook group called ‘Just Don’t Drink Spirits In Bali’.
The Facebook group has 10,000 followers and is run by passionate awareness campaigner Colin Ahearn. The traveler reached out to Ahearn, who guided him through the hospitalization process and managed to gather community support for the young man. Ahearn told reporters that although the poisoning was not as severe as it could have been, urgent action was needed. He said, ‘A lot of his symptoms weren’t severe, but he had some eye damage from the get-go’
Jumping online, Ahearn called out for any duty-free alcohol in the area that could be donated to the traveler to help regulate his metabolism and buy his body time to process the methanol with sugar-based ethanol.
Since the incident, Ahearn has posted an 8-minute explainer video to the Facebook group explaining how the ‘clean’ and confirmed to be legitimate duty-free alcohol can buy the body time in the event of methanol poisoning. A woman came forward and delivered a bottle of duty-free Bacardi to his bedside.
Travelers are reminded to seek medical attention immediately if they suspect they or someone they are traveling with is experiencing methanol poisoning. Methanol poisoning can occur from just one shot of tainted liquor, and precautions must always be taken when drinking alcohol in Indonesia.
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