Spain's pain goes beyond the busted cajas
The land around Sesena is dry. In fact the name La Mancha, the Spanish province it is part of, stems from the Arabic for dry land. And in the 800 years since the Spanish reconquered this terrain, it's fair to say that nobody managed to conquer the thistles. They stand head high, big as your fist, in the dusty fields competing only with wire-sharp grass and discarded tyres.
For 800 years this area was one of the most sparsely populated in Europe. Then came the Spanish property boom. A speculative developer built 13,000 brand new flats in the middle of nowhere. Then the boom ran out, as did the developer's political influence and access to credit.
Nine whole blocks at Sesena stand empty; the rest stand partially occupied, their ground floor retail units bricked up. They're decent flats, with a swimming pool and basketball court in every quadrangle. But many of those who live here now can only afford to rent: migrant workers from Latin America or north Africa, scraping by on part-time jobs. Even at 100% finance - and it still exists here - buying is off the agenda.
It's not until you see Sesena that you realise the mess Spain is in. Because there are one million brand new unsold homes in Spain. And these homes don't just litter the landscape: they sit as bad debts on the books of Spanish banks. And the problem is nobody knows how bad the debts are - because prices are still falling (another 25% is the best guess of Barclays economists).
That's why the Spanish finance system has become the object of acute curiosity in the run up to the stress tests set to be announced by the Committee of European Banking Supervisors on Friday evening.
Spain's big banks are rock solid. Their system was designed to be counter-cyclical - so they were obliged to hold more capital than banks in the Anglo-Saxon system, and the mortgage system forces a lot of the risk onto the homebuyer. But the problem is the cajas.
Cajas are small, local savings banks. They go back to the 19th century and are technically mutual companies, owned by no-one. Often they have local politicians on the board and even priests. Already I can hear you thinking: what could possibly go wrong with a bank run by politicians...
It turns out the cajas lent around 450bn euros to the property developers and face estimated losses of 45bn. The Spanish government, after some hesitation, has moved to restructure the cajas - forcing some to merge, seizing the assets of others - and stands ready with a 90bn euro fund to bail them out if necessary.
But the cajas are not Spain's biggest problem. Its problem is structural and will not go away even if we get through Friday with only a modicum of blood on the carpet.
Spain's unemployment rate stands at 20%, 40% for young people. Its domestic economy has been in recession for nine successive quarters, with only exports keeping the official GDP figure above zero in 2010. The construction sector, which at one point accounted for 12% of GDP, has collapsed.
Now the public sector, which was also large, is being slashed: a 5% pay cut across the board for employees, and further cuts to pensions and public services, will take 15bn euros out of the economy for starters.
With the credit markets tight, and growth flat, there are also signs of core deflation. If you add that to massive bad debts in the private sector then Spain becomes the first candidate country for a disease economists first noticed in the 1930s: debt-deflation. If debts remain high but incomes fall and asset values fall, you get a death spiral or at the very least a Japanese style decade of stagnation.
The remedy is budget cuts and an end to the model of social welfare and generous labour rights Spain has enjoyed since the fall of fascism. Actually, it is even more complicated, since one of the key labour rights bosses dislike - the right to 45 days redundancy pay for every year worked - is a hangover from the Franco era.
At Rubi, in Catalonia, Francisco Elias guides me through his small engineering factory. Bombas Elias makes pumps and sells them to 23 countries. But once the cajas got into trouble, Francisco saw a projected loan of 750,000 euros unceremoniously withdrawn. Now he's struggling, laying off workers and downsizing; in future he'll outsource more, offshore more. He survives, for now, on the goodwill of his customers.
So the caja crisis eats through to the industrial crisis and feeds into the problem of unemployment, which is massive.
Spain's government - as the Deputy Finance Minister Jose Manuel Campa tells me - has a plan. Restructure the cajas, boost exports, deregulate the labour market so that the core of workers with strong employment rights is replaced with a more flexible, younger workforce.
But Spain is a young democracy whose institutions are untested in prolonged austerity.
On a demo of one million people, on the streets of Barcelona two weeks ago, I saw conservative nationalists march alongside communist shop stewards in favour of political autonomy for Catalonia. On the demo the whole demographic rainbow - from anarcho youth to well-heeled professionals - told me the same thing: we're paying too much to central government, we're sick of Spain, they're sick of us.
The main slogan was "Adeu Espanya" - which you don't need to know Catalan to understand. And - slightly chillingly for a country that was once fascist - more than one young person informed me: "democracy isn't working".
Javier Díaz-Giménez, a professor at the IESE business school in Madrid, is pessimistic about the prospect of structural reform.
"The swing voter, the man who decides the election, is a guy with a secure job, good wages, guaranteed pension, a subsidised railway system, free roads - and he's not going to vote to give that up."
"So nobody can reform Spain?" I ask.
He smiles ruefully:
"The markets will."