Burgos Province. The high meseta. Little scruffy villages in the middle of patchwork fields hidden far from the world at 800m. Bruised reds and browns, dirty greens and yellows. Snow whipping around and wind buffeting the car. A surprise hill range and a craggy mountain pass, all slate grey and rusty orange hid Griffon vultures that circled near me as I clambered up the moist earth, wheeling through the white with rats and rodents in their mouths; their families huddled in the caves and nooks. I laughed as they passed within metres. Roque was at the bottom by the car with his video camera and little dogs.
'Don't move! Stay there!'
Numb hands covered in mud and blood. My inadequate shoes falling apart.
The big brown birds, with their white tufty roughs and bald heads hit some imperceptible thermals and drifted up to the heavens.
'OK! Come down!'
Through some man made tunnel in the gorge and then out into gloopy brown fields and an oddly handsome honey-coloured pueblo surrounded by snow-dusted hills. Santo Domingo de Silos, the great secret of Burgos.
What is the secret? Out there in the middle of nowhere, 200km from Madrid, is an inconspicuous region of holiness with a variety of minuscule and muscular buildings, including one of the great masterpieces of Romanesque art: the 7th/10th century Monasterio de Santo Domingo de Silos...actually an abbey. Ancient pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago would take the 60km diversion south of Burgos just to visit it. Monks dressed in black shuffled about the impressive two-storey tiered cloister and at every corner stonework sculpturing was etched into the walls and pillars. In the garden in the middle an enormous cypress tree shoots up towards the heavens at the same height as the bell-tower and church spire and despite the tour group and clearly bored guide the place had a sense of faraway peace.
'Is that a gallego accent Roque? I notice it dips at the end.'
'I think it's actually the accent of somebody who's given this speech too many times.'
Away from the protection of the heraldic ceiling the rain had started to pound the town.
Taberna. Wine. Olives. The sky leaking life onto the meseta and a flurry of umbrellas glimpsed through a dribbling window.
Just time to buy some home-made Silos honey and take a few photos before God apparently decided he just had to go. We headed back. Back through the gorge, passed the carrion-eaters, up into the high flats again. The rain had turned to snow, with a vengeance.
'I don't have chains man!'
'You won't need chains, it's not that much snow!'
'I'm from Murcia! This is like the third time I've seen snow!'
'We'll be fine. Just take it slow and pretend it's just white rain!'
'Maybe we should find another road.'
'I don't have any chains.'
'We don't need chains.'
And then Madrid greets us with its grand snowy peaks and proud sun and the wild Burgosian fields are but a recent memory. Some bizarre kilometre of monasteries severed from the real world by a sheet of white.
To finish the day. Hedonism, pure and simple, in El Molar; one of Madrid's unremarkable satellites to the north on a low rise towards the base of the Sierra de Guadarrama. Up on a cleft of hill with a view to the sunset over the capital's skyline, is the cave quarter. Bodegas and storehouses carved out in the earth, metres underground, all converted into rustic restaurants. Bodegon los Olivares: hefty prices and fairly solid prices. 35 euros each and sitting in barely lit alcoves. A bottle of Navarra wine. A plate of migas (chunky bread crumbs fried up with meat, garlic and grapes), productos de matanza (little chistorras, chorizos, picadillo - fried sausage meat - and a fat morcilla) all sizzling on a hot plate and divvied up with a home-made wheel of bread. Then the star of the show, the Villagordo. An enormous slab of prime ox-meat served seared and sliced with salt. To accompany, another hot plate on which you fry to your own tastes. Hands down the best meat I've ever had in Spain.
Then two bottles of licor: pacharan (sloe-gin) and hierbas (thyme, rosemary and aniseed) with coffee. Then another bottle of pacharan... A walk to a plateau park with the dogs helped excuse the feeling of gluttony before the clouds descended and we retreated to a cafe for a carajillo (a small Irish coffee). It was an afternoon of hearty abundance. An afternoon that the Vikings would have been proud of. If only we had tankards to slam down onto the wooden tables and hogs with apple-stuffed mouths.
What you can do in a day with a car and an appetite still surprises me.