Through Heat and Broken Heart

October 28, 2013

Words by // Photography by Nita Breibish

The staff at Hotel Termas Marinas El Palasiet are excellent and the manager, Joaquin Farnos, is wonderfully friendly. We’re not sure if a security camera picked up the F650’s headstand in the parking lot, but shortly after we settle in the phone rings and on the other end is a calming voice. It’s reception calling to let us know that we both have a free massage waiting for us if we should want it. If?! We set up a time with our host and wait impatiently for the hour to arrive.

It’s a real treat. Our bodies and our minds seem to be getting more tired with every mile and the masseuses touch delivers the perfect massage for our current state! Once the hour is up, we try to offer a payment which is politely refused. Once again we find ourselves feeling incredibly blessed. Still feeling a little incredulous at our fortune, we make our way back up to the room and enjoy the beautiful view of Benicàssim we’ve been afforded.

Our day here is perfect. The sun seems to be dwindling, and there’s a spring nip in the air but the patio offers a wonderful retreat from the road. The staff are some of the friendliest we’ve had and Nita’s heart, while misbehaving a little, seems quite content with the surroundings.

After packing the bikes the following morning, we spend some time in the parkade with a German man in his sixties who’s dressed in his housecoat. He’s been admiring the bikes and seems stunned that Nita would be capable of riding such a beast. There are days when her bikes seems way too big for her stature but she has the skill and, perhaps more importantly, the mindset to move her mule around. The comments from our friend are not unfamiliar and are said more with genuine surprise than tinge of sexism. Still, even as a man, it’s a bit of a drag to think that Nita’s journey should be unexpected at all.

It’s been one of those days where the start takes a while. Twice we’ve moved to leave and twice we’ve been pulled quite willingly into conversation – and, as it turns out, we’re not quite done yet. Literally a block from the hotel gates, two women on bicycles strike up a conversation that has us sitting through a few light changes before we feel we can leave without insult! To be honest, days like this can be pretty fun but any chill that was in the air the day before is long gone and the heat of sitting in full-gear makes getting underway again an absolute joy.

Our destination for the next couple of days is Camping Playa Paraiso, a campsite south of Valencia in Villajoyosa. We’re looking forward to setting the tent up along the beach and enjoying the sound of waves crashing against the pebbles as we fall asleep. The sun is bright and it’s warmth floods the air while only a few clouds dot the sky. Valencia is the first major city we’ve hit since Barcelona and, much like it’s northern cousin, it’s easy to navigate and somehow quite peaceful riding through it’s wide roads and colourful streets. We get a few waves and plenty of smiles as we make our way through the city made famous to me by it’s racing track – Circuit de la Comunitat Valencia.

We toy with the idea of riding along the coast but, to be honest, it’s less appealing to us than the nearly empty highway that sits slightly more inland. The coast here is lined with high-rise vacation apartments that, in many ways, seem to remove the actual beauty of the coastline. In contrast, the deep, black tarmac under our tires rolls effortlessly through wonderfully green hills and along a sea that reveals itself every once in a while.

We’re back in the land of very good drivers, something that’s become a real treat for us. None of the crazed darting that we experienced in Sicily and none of the congestion we lived through in Tunisia. Travelling here allows for simple enjoyment – though after a few hours of highways we’re craving at least a little adventure. And it comes, though not entirely how we envision it.

The road leads us back towards the water and suddenly we’re completely alone. The tarmac is in excellent condition and while more twisty than the highways, it’s corners are long and sweeping. Moving through them at speed, we feel the suspension compress and release as the bikes lean over and the world seems to disappear into a blur of joyful sensation. The landscape here is changing; the hills are becoming more sparse and giant shards of rock emerge from the water, teasing us with the idea of boat rides to their nearby shores. Small towns dot our route and remind us of the places we’ve seen in southern Italy creating an interesting mix of architecture that somehow makes their streets feel familiar to us. Another familiar sensation we’re feeling is hunger! Near the coast we find a wonderful truck-stop just off the road and take a moment to enjoy more of the wonderful hospitality this region offers.

About ten minutes from Villajoyosa, Nita tells me she feels as though she’s about to black-out – not a great condition to be in while riding a motorcycle. We’re in the process of merging from the quiet roads we’ve been travelling, onto a busy freeway that’s funneling the thickening traffic toward Benidorm. I keep talking to make sure she’s still with me and, while I try to find a decent place to pull over, Nita lets me know that we have to stop immediately. Luckily, we’re in a construction zone with plenty of space to pull off of the road and the reduced speed limit means we’re not flanked by cars racing by but rather a slow parade of curious on-lookers – none of whom pause to ask if we’re alright.

Nita moves as far away from the road as possible, sit’s down and tucks her head between her knees. It’s a technique she’s been taught to help deal with the sudden attacks brought on by her heart condition, Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome – essentially, an electrical short-circuit in her heart that causes it to misfire, inducing a tachycardia that leaves the heart beating uncontrollably and feeling like a runaway freight-train. She’s been able to control these attacks her entire life but here, on the side of this road, she’s not able to.

A policeman glances at us as he rides by on a scooter  and, as I begin to wave him our way, he simply continues down the road. Bugger. While I have a growing feeling that we’ll need to call and ambulance, Nita assures me that she’ll get it settled; she just needs time and quiet. After forty-five tense minutes, she’s feeling well enough to ride the last ten minutes to our campsite and soon we pull into the spot we’ll call home for a few nights. We’re exhausted.

Once we’ve set up camp, we sit on the beach enjoying the view; the sun that once dominated the blue sky has been hidden by dark clouds moving in from the east over the white-caps of the Mediterranean. It’s a quiet moment, filled with thoughts of the day. For both of us it’s been quite a scare. I’ve never seen Nita unable to control an attack and the seriousness of the situation while riding isn’t lost on us. Top that off with our plan to enter Morocco in a few short days and suddenly our feelings for the journey are shifting from excitement to trepidation.

After a spending a good while in silence, the mood lightens with the discovery of €1 Cruzcampo beers, ice cream and an impromptu Alite camping chair balancing competition. My mad skillz shine through with a single thirty second stint – an important record that remains unbeaten to this very day. Anywhere in the world. Deciding that my 240lbs frame is probably going to destroy one of my favorite camping accessories, we abandon the balancing olympics and retreat to the tent for a good nights sleep.

Sleeping by a raging sea sounds amazing – romantic even – but in reality the crashing waves keep us up most of the night. Still, we’re not complaining. The view that greets our weary eyes in the morning is fantastic. We brew a morning coffee by the tent and fill our senses with our surroundings before making our way into Villajoyosa for a bite to eat. We find a great little café across the street with a wonderful owner who happily fixes us some eggs and bacon. It’s a perfect start after a day like yesterday.

We head into town to pick up supplies and we’re immediately greeted by a healthy amount of truly decent graffiti. There’s the usual tags, but it’s mostly the complex letterforms and giant child giving the finger that catch our eyes. It’s all a bit strange, made stranger by the fact that the town is so small and incredibly quiet. Eventually we find our market, top up our groceries and make our way back to camp.

The sky is cloudless today and the sun is beating down on our exposed site with a ferocity we’ve not felt since our very first day on the Canadian prairies. The mercury is touching it’s single toe into the forties and we’d be overheating if it weren’t for the cool breeze that continues to gently move in from the water. Even with the breeze we need to set up a tarp for some shady relief and, after finding some large rocks for anchors, we’re able to enjoy the We Love Motogeo HQ, Beachside Campus! Our site also turns into a temporary garage where we hammer out various dents on our panniers, top-up oil and tighten chains. Days like this are always a treat.

The thoughts of the previous day are still with us. We’re enjoying our time again, but deep down there’s a nagging feeling that we’ve not seen the end of it yet. The conditions have escalated into something unknown and, with health, that’s rarely a good sign. We spend the day catching shadows as the sun moves overhead and, for the first time, our phones actually complain about the heat by shutting down and leaving notice that they’ll return to work when management installs some air-conditioning. The cheek! As the evening brings its cooler temperatures, we enjoy some wine by the tent, reading words written by much more capable writers and tucking a few more phrases en Español up our sleeves.

Our last day in Villajoyosa once again begins recovering from an unsettled sleep. The ocean here is loud and wonderful. Blue sky stretches out in front of our eyes and it’s spotless which can only mean that we’re in for more of the heat we felt the day before. We’re leaving this wonderful beach today and heading further south to Almeria where we’ll catch our ferry to the Spanish exclave of Melilla in North Africa. As we tear down our camp, were circled by an older English man on a bicycle. Every morning here Gerald rides his tired-looking bike in laps around the camp leading a one-man race toward an imaginary finish line all the while wearing a smile on his face and calling out warm greetings to his neighbors.

During the few days we’ve spent here we’ve been constantly flanked by English accents; all of the RV’s here are owned by folks escaping the wet winter at home to spend their days basking in the Spanish sun and overlooking the wonderful sea. While we’ve heard their conversations (often about football or Coronation Street), we’ve yet to talk to anyone but Gerald. We appreciate that folks enjoy a level of privacy and, to be honest, sometimes anonymity is exactly what we need.

Once in a while there’s a funny twist though. The temperature is quickly approaching the forties and, as we don our gear, the entire troop comes over to chat. It’s always surprising when folks wait until we’re completely geared-up and ready to leave before approaching us to talk – but it’s rarely a bad thing. As the sweating increases we begin to peel layers off and soon we’re being given tours of their motorhomes. It’s a lovely chat with a great group of people and, really, it’s not long before we’re on our way south to Almeria a little richer for our meeting.

With the temperature here already hitting heights that make standing still uncomfortable, we’re acutely aware that we may already be too late for hard riding in Morocco. The motorways to Almería provide easy passage to the coast and while our route lacks challenges our minds are still with a racing heart it’s owner is unable to control. Thankfully, the day lacks any such drama and instead raises our excitement for Morocco with a series of unexpected signs written in Arabic. We’re getting closer to Africa with every mile.

The region around Almería is beautiful and the city can boast the lowest levels of rainfall anywhere in Europe. It’s also played host to the cast and crews of some classic movies like Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, the epic Lawrence of Arabia and, of course, many of the spaghetti westerns that flourished during the mid-sixties. By the time we settle into our room at the Gran Hotel Almería, we’re both acutely aware of how tired we’ve become. The combination of time on the road, restless nights in Villajoyosa and the heat have left us feeling wiped.

We decide to break for a few days in Almería while we wait for the ferry. The city is alive with busy-ness and everywhere we look people are milling about dining, shopping and meeting. Along with the suns warm glow, the city has a fantastic energy that helps us feel revitalized by simply walking it’s streets. Almeria is way more interesting than we could have hoped for and we feel pleasantly surprised at how perfect it is for us in this moment.

There’s also an abundance of places to stock-up on supplies – something that we take full advantage of. Our Spot Connect has a healthy appetite for power that only lithium batteries seem to sate. Unfortunately, lithium batteries are incredibly hard to find in southern Europe and when we do find them the cost is extraordinary. Walking to every place that may carry them leaves us empty-handed and we settle on a variety of “Long-life” batteries that last less than four days in the device. The extra batteries are not only wasteful, they’re heavy – adding more weight to our already hefty bikes. The Spot Connects hunger for power and dependance on a smart phone for tracking leave it far off of the list for adventuring must-haves.

The Gran Hotel Almería is looking tired but it’s beds are comfortable, it’s rooms clean and spacious. Our days here provide Nita plenty of rest and it’s location couldn’t be better. We have a fantastic view of the Mediterranean’s blue waters, the ferry terminal where we’ll leave for Morocco and easy access to the bustling streets of downtown. The city is filled with friendly people and smiles are common while walking along sidewalks lined with graffiti that often approaches art. On one of our walkabouts we make our way toward the dock to see how our transfer will likely unfold; it’s easy to navigate and it’s main terminal is nicely appointed with cafés and self-serve ticketing. It all looks simple enough.

Unfortunately, Nita’s heart has other ideas.

Our last day in Almería is much like the others; it starts with a good breakfast and is filled with plenty of walking. Our six hour Acciona ferry to Melilla leaves at 11:30pm and we decide to pick up the tickets from the terminal in the morning. When we arrive, the booths are closed we’re told to return in an hour. Instead of leaving I grab a coffee in the café while we plan to enjoy the sun on the patio outside. While I’m waiting for the coffee, Nita tells me she needs to sit down and, in a matter of moments, the days demeanor changes.

Looking outside, I notice she hasn’t made it to the patio table. Instead, she’s sitting on the ground, against the wall in a small triangle of shade – once again with her head between her knees. By the time I join her, she’s pale and a sweat is breaking across her entire body. I run inside to grab some water but it’s too late; her heart is in full-gallop and she’s become to weak to stand. I walk her to a table and sit her down beneath an umbrella; she can barely pick up her head and she’s visibly in distress.  Knowing Nita, she’s trying her best to take care of it herself – asking for more time to just breath through what she believes is something she can handle.  Finally, she says the words.

“I think I need an ambulance.”

They’re the words I’ve been dreading the entire trip. A small group of concerned onlookers has gathered and I run to the ticket office to get a taxi called for us. Soon, I’m half carrying and half dragging Nita to the car. There’s a hospital close by but by the time we arrive her clothes are soaked. I’ve never seen her in such a terrible state but all I can focus on is getting her in front of a doctor.

Incredibly, no-one at the hospital seems to speak even the slightest English and it’s a thought that will return to me over and over. With Nita parked across three seats of a registration room bench, I desperately try to explain what’s happening with little luck. The woman keeps motioning for me to leave – there’s another hospital that deals with emergencies but not this one. I’m pointing to my heart when I suddenly realize that the woman thinks I’m trying to admit myself to hospital – and suddenly her nonchalance makes sense. I point to Nita who’s now laying on the floor in a puddle of sweat and moaning loudly enough to muster yet another crowd who are also trying to get the administrators attention.

Jumping up from her chair, the woman races off and, thankfully, returns with three doctors who immediately rush her into a room and begin attaching all manner of beeping, buzzing and pinging machine. A woman with a clipboard appears who speaks a little English and I begin to explain that Nita has a heart condition – Wolff-Parkinson-White – a condition everyone recognizes as I say the words. Success!

Suddenly, Nita’s hands and feet twist and contort; they’re seizing which is something that’s never happened before. There’s so much fear in her face and yet there’s nothing I can do. It’s the worst feeling in the world. The doctors who’ve now started removing bits of clothing seem unconcerned with the seizing. “Don’t worry about your hands and feet” they keep saying – all with calm smiles and a warmth that catches us off-guard. These people are amazing.

While they work on Nita, I fill out paper-work and have to call our insurance company – an absolutely ridiculous thing to contend with while dealing with an emergency! While I thought a simple call to update them is all that’s needed, it actually turns into an hour spent dealing with an agent while my wife suffers on a gurney without me by her side.

Back inside, Nita’s tachycardia has eased and the doctors decide to transfer her to Hospital Torrecárdenas by ambulance. After an intense ride in the front of the ambulance, Nita’s quickly ushered away into the back for an assessment with a wonderful doctor, Angel Ruiz Chica. The incredibly kind staff get Nita comfortable and, with her heart beginning to quieten, the talk moves away from trauma and onto our journey. Dr. Chica is a fellow motorcyclist and he has a talent for getting Nita talking about what she loves and getting her mind off of her heart which is exactly what she needs.

Nita’s taken to a room where she’s monitored but, more importantly, manages to sleep. After a few hours of rest her vitals return to normal and I’m finally allowed to take her back to the hotel. We’re exhausted but incredibly grateful for the help we’ve received from the doctors and nurses. Simply put, they’re excellent!

Back at the hotel, Nita tells me she’s feeling good enough to still manage the journey to Morocco later that night. It brings a smile to my face – not because it’s an option but because it’s such a Nita thing to do! She works through the hard stuff with a spirit that seems unshakeable. I suggest we wait a day and see how she’s feeling.

With that settled, we plan for Morocco tomorrow.


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I’m a Canadian writer, adventure motorcyclist and world traveller of British and Libyan descent. I’ve spent the past two and a half years travelling the globe by motorcycle as one-half of We Love Motogeo, following a route that makes little sense to anyone else, while supporting our non-profit organization, the Lost for Good Project. I’ve been chased by all manner of animal, detained as a spy in North Africa and waited out a hurricane in the bowels of a ferry. While I’m no spy (honestly), I am a lover of decent coffee and great yarns sewn around a campfire.


  1. Comment by Kelly Hilkewich

    Kelly Hilkewich October 28, 2013 at 1:22 pm

    Hi Issa and Nita

    We are so glad you were able to get to a hospital and some assistance. Take Care of yourselves.

    Your trip continues to sound amazing and the pictures are wonderful! Such an experience and it sounds like you are taking it all in and giving back as well. A lifetime experience so thank you for sharing!

    We are well in Calgary! The family you leased your house to are lovely and we enjoy having them next door. Halloween decorations are in your front yard!

    Kim and I went to Kenya for three weeks to visit our daughter in September. We really enjoyed our trip. Spent the last few days on Lamu Island where the main transportation is donkeys! Interesting place. Our daughter, Mallory will be living in Nairobi until at least April 2014. She has been there a couple of years and works for a social enterprise called Me to We which was started by the Canadian charity Free the Children. If you do head to Kenya and would like a contact please let me know. She travels a lot out to the Masaii Mara and knows the area very well. We visited many of their projects.

    It has been a while so wanted to be in touch after reading this blog. Thankful all turned out okay. Continue to enjoy your travels. Kelly and Kim Hilkewich

    • Comment by Issa Breibish

      Issa Breibish November 1, 2013 at 2:33 pm

      Hi Kelly (and Kim!)

      Thanks for the kind words – we’re glad to hear from you and that we can take you along on our journey! We had a great feeling about Marieke and Sander :) Sometimes you just know when folks are going to be very good.

      So great to hear about Mallory – she’s really quite the adventurer in her own right. Would be great to meet up with her when we make it that way – hopefully before she leaves! If not, perhaps over a cool drink in the back yard when we return :)

      I’ll send you a note with more news :) Great hearing from you and talk soon!

  2. Comment by Tim

    Tim October 28, 2013 at 5:34 pm

    I have enjoyed all your posts along with amazing photos.
    Take care of your girl and stay safe. Looking forward to North Africa.

    • Comment by Issa Breibish

      Issa Breibish November 1, 2013 at 2:34 pm

      Thanks for the thoughts Tim. Nita’s doing great and we’ll soon be back on our bikes! Morocco next post!

  3. Comment by Bob B.

    Bob B. October 28, 2013 at 6:04 pm

    I had not seen a post for some time and hoped that things were OK with you!
    As a four needle a day diabetic. I to know what it is like to live and ride with a medical condition.
    Listen to your body, ride with care and I look forward following your journey…
    Bob B. Gander, Newfoundland.

    • Comment by Issa Breibish

      Issa Breibish November 1, 2013 at 2:35 pm

      Hi Bob! Great to hear from you. Sage advice indeed – I think we’ve found a way to manage her heart until we get it dealt with properly :) Thanks for continuing to follow along – you’ve been with us a long time!

  4. Comment by Minna

    Minna October 29, 2013 at 8:53 am

    As always I awaited your next post and read it with great anticipation. Then came the part about Nita and I could feel my heart rate increase and my palms sweating. What a scary situation! She is lucky to have you by her side Issa and you are lucky to have her – a strong, determined woman. I’m glad she got the needed medical attention and that the journey can continue. Be safe and enjoy the ride. Can’t wait for the next post and travel along. (We are expecting snow here in Vermont).

    • Comment by Issa Breibish

      Issa Breibish November 1, 2013 at 2:38 pm

      Hi Minna – we *are* incredibly lucky to have one another. She’s been incredibly strong while going through all of this – somehow she always manages to dig deep and find the good in every situation. I’m happy to say she’s doing great and excited for the next leg of our trip… Take care!

  5. Comment by George F

    George F October 29, 2013 at 8:34 pm

    Wow, that’s not good, I hope she gets better soon. Take care of Nita. Glad you guys found good doctors and were in a position to get to the hospital fast. Love your pictures, give my regards to Nita, you guys still have lots to blog, lots of places to visit.

    • Comment by Issa Breibish

      Issa Breibish November 1, 2013 at 2:40 pm

      LOL – indeed George! So much left to see. She’s doing great – you of course know the outcome which means travelling further-on is a-ok! More to see, more to share :)

  6. Comment by Stephen

    Stephen November 1, 2013 at 9:19 am

    My heart rate increased reading this. Scary stuff. I am so glad you are in good hands and hearts.

    • Comment by Issa Breibish

      Issa Breibish November 1, 2013 at 2:41 pm

      Stephen! So great to hear from you on here! Thanks for all of your help and being such a solid friend though it all – you’re the best!

  7. Comment by Jan Thain

    Jan Thain November 5, 2013 at 6:05 pm

    Nita’s heart is sooooo big that she developed those extra electrical charges to make sure all those she touches know they are loved. I think her heart needs to know she really doesn’t need them anymore! Love you guys! xoxox

    • Comment by Issa Breibish

      Issa Breibish November 6, 2013 at 1:29 pm

      Isn’t that the truth mum? Just before she went in she smiled and said “Perhaps I’ll be able to love even more once it’s all done!” A fitting joke for her :)

  8. Comment by Blake Wickland

    Blake Wickland November 27, 2013 at 2:22 pm

    Great pictures and another amazing write up of your trip. Glad to hear Nita got everything under control that day, can’t imagine how scary that would be on the verge of a blackout while riding.

    • Comment by Issa Breibish

      Issa Breibish December 7, 2013 at 7:37 pm

      Thanks Blake (sorry it took a while to reply!!). Nita’s been doing great since her surgery back in YYC – a calm heart and quiet beats…

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