I just arrived in Santa Marta, a lively small town in the north of Cuba, between the cities Matanzas and Cardenas. As I get out of the blue and white 1956 Chevrolet 210 Sedan that served us as a taxi, I am struck by the smell of fresh bread. (You need to know that bread is the one thing that I miss the most when sailing the world.)
I just stand there and inhale deeply, take a full breath and another one. It‘s not the fumes of the aging vintage trucks passing by or the smell of the steaming horse shit on the street that bedazzles me. It is this soft aroma of coziness and home that subconsciously lets my feet follow its origin.
And there I see this bright red and yellow building, freshly painted with Che critically looking at me and the Cuban flag proudly flying. In huge letters it says „Panaderia“ as if this would not just mean „Bakery“ but „Palace of Bread“.
Two bikes with baskets are leaning against the wall, the door is invitingly open, the smell unbearably good! My friend Jen is laughing at me as I catch myself licking my lips like a dog in anticipation of food. She loves to make fun of me for behaving like a solo-sailor who has trouble to fit into civilized society. I need to be careful now I don‘t start drooling. Then I finally enter the holy grail.
I expect shelfs and displays full of various pastries, cakes and bread as I am used to in the countless bakeries that I have visited in my life. But this place is different. Not worse! Just different.
The interior is maticulately clean and painted in the same bright yellow as the outside. The sales room is divided by a wide tiled counter. In the front three locals stand in line, leaned to the counter, patiently waiting. In the back I see this huge scaffolding with at least 15 baking trays full of rolls, still steaming. Just these trays, nothing else. I quickly identify them as the origin of the heartwarming, seductive aroma that led me here.
Slowly I understand that everybody is waiting for the bread to cool down. The entire picture is like frozen. Nobody moves. Until a sharp sound breaks the silence and the saleslady takes the first tray out of the scaffolding and puts it on the counter like in a well practiced choreography. Now I really need to control myself that I don‘t start drooling. It feels like an eternity until it finally is my turn. My poor Spanish is good enough to order four rolls. I am lucky I have a bag with me because they don‘t have bags, not even paper bags. Everybody brings his own. When I pull out a five-convertible-Peso (CUC) note the poor girl struggles finding enough change. Five convertible Pesos are approximately five US Dollars. A short glance on my change showed me that the four rolls were less than USD 0.40.
And before I have left the building, I dive into the first roll like a cookie monster. It is made just from a simple light dough but for me it is paradise turned into bread and time stands still.
When I am finally able to crank my brains again, I find that this panaderia, blessed by Che himself, has both not fulfilled and exceeded my expectations at the same time. The choice was somewhat limited whereas the quality and the freshness unparalleled.
I would prefer this place over any Walmart, Aldis or other shopping temple at any time. How much choice do you need to be happy?