Jill and I arrived in Sierra Engarceran after spending three days in Sitges, our Smart Car rolling cautiously through the narrow, shuttered streets at the end of siesta. Slowly, people began to appear like shadows rising in the wake of a dull sun—an old man with his matted, brown dog, boys unloading a truck, a clump of aproned women chatting on a side street.
I pulled off in the town plaza and phoned Rob, our Airbnb host. He answered in a gentle British lilt and came to collect us, unfolding himself from a blue Citroen, dog peering at us from the back window. He kissed us gruffly on both cheeks, hands and jeans dusty with clay, and we followed him on the serpentine road out of town, rendered speechless by the ethereal afternoon light that folded down like gold wings across the hills.
“You are in rural Spain, mind,” Rob laughs, though not unkindly, when we ask about Wi-Fi and the nearest amenities. He shrugs good-naturedly, signaling that we will indeed be far from pretty much everything for the next week. Life will move slowly. Things will not be immediate. There will be mist and fog and drizzle and possibly—storms.
We stand in the stone piazza outside his maisa—his farmhouse—gazing at the craggy mountain at its back, the hillside bursting with herbs above tidy terraces of almond trees. Slowly, we move through the property admiring the green, sunken pool in the garden, the maisa’s cozy, stone fireplace and its rustic kitchen with low-slung beams and postcard view of the village framed by large, square windows. Rob’s dog, Idgie weaves between us as we walk, her black body sleek as a raven’s wing.
Rob begins to list off possible points of interest—we could hike up to the saddle of Tossal de l’Om, the mountain behind the masia, and the site of a 14th Century Muslim encampment only recently discovered by archaeologists. Or, we might drive to the nearby towns of Ares and Morella—ancient, walled cities topped by medieval castles. Morella (pronounced mor-AY-uh), the larger of the two, boasts a stronghold coveted by El Cid in the 1080’s. At this, Jill and I share an excited glance. Finally, after building a fire in the living room and showing us a stash of leftover wine, Rob departs, Idgie trotting tenderly at his heels.
Left to our own devices, we realize that we are in dire need of supplies and make a return trip to town. There, we wind our way slowly through the streets until we find the carnerceria. We enter, dodging the swish of beaded curtains, and are greeted by Ima, its owner. She beckons us to survey the teetering piles of random things crammed in her little shop.
“Qué te gustaría?” She asks cordially, feet and hands spread wide. What would you like?
Words leave my mouth in a slow stream and her tiny counter begins to fill: oranges, avocados, bananas, broccoli, apricots, tomatoes, thick slices of salami, cream, mayo, eggs, cheese, bread, three bottles of wine—two tinto, one rosa.
As she taps numbers into a calculator, she unleashes a barrage of Spanish. Where are we from? Are we staying at Rob’s masia? Is fair-haired Jill Rob’s daughter? (This makes us laugh because aside from both being Caucasian, they look nothing alike.)
In a flurry, Ima bags our purchases. The entire haul will feed us for a week and costs nineteen euros, wine included. Before we leave, she imparts bits of local information. The bakery—called in Catalan, font du pa—is open from six-thirty to two most days, never on Sundays and on Saturday, well, it varies. The pharmacia is around the corner and Bar Salvador across the square sells wine, beer, some food and cigarettes.
“Entiendes?” She asks me. Understand?
“I think so. Your words come so fast. Como un viento.” Like a wind.
“Claro,” she laughs. “Pero—es bueno que intentes hablar español.” It’s good that you try to speak Spanish.
“Lo intento," I reply. I try.
I will always try.
Later, back in the masia’s cozy kitchen, Jill chops piles of vegetables next to a roiling pot of pasta—heaps of broccoli, garlic, tomato. Fragrant steam fills the air. She adds cream. We draw chairs up to the rough-hewn table and slurp bowls of noodles topped with fresh cheese; every so often refilling our squat, clay glasses with wine from a label-less bottle of tinto. A local map is spread on the table and our eyes rove the topography of Sierra Engarceran. As night draws in around the tiny farmhouse, we are full and sated. Happy. Warmly tipsy. The iPhones come out and we play our favorite songs, loud as we please, singing along in the mellow glow of the kitchen. We gaze out at the far-off twinkle of the village nestled across the valley like a cluster of fireflies. The masia is our mountain stronghold; made for eating, drinking, talking and laughing and it is snug as a cave, itself.
The next day, we hike. The fog moves in a winged froth across the highlands, chasing us up the rocky embankment behind the house. Higher and higher, we climb—pink-cheeked, shivering—flanked by hillside troves of hyacinth, thyme, wild lavender and mint. At the pinnacle, Jill buries her face in a feast of purple rosemary. Somewhere below, dogs in the valley bark and whine. We sit on large, flat boulders and munch sandwiches until a dense, white cloud cloisters us, forcing us to descend through the shrubs and rock fields, slow and precise, as if we are brittle and small and not people at all—but figurines made of glass.