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Sea to Summit Travelling Light Toiletry Bag

[Short of time? Read the haiku instead]

Why do I keep reviewing Sea to Summit stuff? I’m not sponsored by them or anything. I promise I do make an effort to vary the type of products I write about in this blog, and the manufacturers, so why do STS keep coming up? Well, they just make such damn useful gear, that’s all. The toiletry cell is no different – a perfect size, it’s freestanding, has three zipped pockets on the inside walls, is lightweight and has lots of attachment points. I don’t think they could have bettered it, to be honest.

Congratulations Mr. Slater, it's a ... gall stone!

Quick quiz: what’s the difference between travelling and a hospital? You need a toiletry bag for both! No wait, that’s a similarity. My point is, you really don’t want to combine the two. If you’ve eaten enough dodgy street food you’ll have got sick at some point, that’s pretty much unavoidable, but hopefully you weren’t ill enough to require hospitalisation in a developing country.

I’ve been lucky so far. I haven’t been violently mugged, crashed a scooter or, my personal #1 fear, been involved in a head-on collision between a bus and a truck. In fact, apart from a few visits to doctors in Israel & Guatemala (amoebic dysentery & giardiasis respectively) I’ve managed to keep my head down and tough it out. So I had a reasonably good record until I went to New Zealand. Not the most dangerous country to travel, you’d have thought, and you’d be right. Having said that, I was there specifically for a week of ice climbing, but that’s beside the point; I didn’t even make it out of the airport.

I awoke on the morning of the flight with lower back pain; nothing unusual about that, except that it didn’t go away. By the departure lounge in Sydney the dull throb had moved to my upper abdomen and I recognised it with dread as a pain I’d experienced a couple of times before and self-diagnosed (with the help of Dr. Google) as trapped wind. It would usually recede after a few hours of rolling around on the floor or running up and down, not options widely available on your average international flight.

As we cruised high above the Tasman Sea, the pain worsened and I writhed in my economy seat, no doubt to the consternation of my seat neighbour. If he thought I was having a heart attack he said nothing about it. By the time we landed in Queenstown three hours later I was in silent hell, puffing, sweating & squirming. I sprinted through customs and immigration, or tried to. Of course, this was the day the drug dog decided to sniff out my empty sandwich wrapper, correctly identifying the residual smell as peanut butter, and the biosecurity officer wanted to closely examine my mountain boots for Australian soil, both causing agonising delays.

By the time I reached the airport information office I was begging for a quiet piece of floor on which to lie in a ball, groaning. This was duly provided but surprisingly didn’t help. Neither did running around the car park. When I finally vomited copiously into his toilet, the lad on duty nervously suggested I go to the hospital, fortunately only a five-minute walk away.

An hour later, tagged and admitted, I felt the sweet, sweet flow of morphine spreading up my arm, turning my insides hot, dizzy and pain-free. Aaaah – it was so nice. The ordeal was over; the Kiwis had saved me and I drifted off to sleep with a smile on my dial until. The best part was, I already had my toiletry bag with me!

"Must ... take ... photo. Prove ... story."

The Kiwi doctors never diagnosed the problem but gave me a letter to take to my GP, who also failed to suggest any relevant tests. In fact it took another hospitalisation, this time while I was away at a conference, before I was told to go for an ultrasound. It turned out my gall bladder had clogged up with gunk and stones and needed removing urgently. Thank God this didn’t happen in the Sudan, where Lonely Planet’s advice begins and ends with: ‘in case of a medical emergency, try to leave the country immediately.’

They kicked me out later that afternoon, once the morphine had worn off and the pain subsided, and that was that. I still went ice climbing the next day, obviously.

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