Birthday Week in Moçambique

Tasting peri-peri chicken and experiencing Afro-Portuguese culture made my 21st birthday celebration unique indeed.

I’ve never spent my birthday in another country before, so Mozambique was as good a place as any for my first international birthday. It was for perhaps my biggest birthday yet- I’m 21-years-old now! I would’ve been thrilled traveling anywhere if there was ice cream, Indian food, and a few trails to meander around. Mozambique had all that… plus a load of other surprises. If you’re hunting for your next birthday getaway, here’s why Mozambique is not a bad option:

  1. Portuguese-inspired dining

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    This is matapa (right dish), a traditional Mozambican seafood composed of cassava leaves, groundnut/coconut and crabs and served with porridge (left dish). It tastes like a spinachy seafood soup.

    Most African food I’ve eaten consists of a corn porridge, meat, and perhaps some veggies. In Mozambique, however, dining is relatively diverse. Mozambique’s well-known for its spicy peri-peri chicken, cashews, and seafood. Since it was colonized by Portugal, its streets also boast Portuguese bakeries. You have to try pastel de nata, which is an egg tart dusted with cinnamon. What a treat! My favorite food I ate in Mozambique was mango gelato (an Italian food, I confess) from a local bakery  in Maputo, Mozambique’s capital. I scarfed down a bowl 3 nights in a row!

  2. A chance to brush up on your Spanish

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    My study abroad friends and I enjoying gelato and socializing at a local Portuguese bakery in Maputo, Mozambique. From the left is Kelly, Nell, Lily, and I.

    After 2 months in an intensive Indonesian language program, my Spanish skills have become atrocious! I only realized this after testing them in Mozambique, where I had been told I’d be better off using Spanish than English when interacting with locals. Portuguese is Mozambique’s national language, and though it’s not identical to Spanish, it’s quite similar. While crafting phrases in my head was a nightmare, I was able to translate most signs decently well.

  3. The best marketplace in southern Africa

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    Batik paintings at the FEIMA Market in Maputo.

    One of my favorite parts about traveling is shopping at local markets. However, what I’ve realized is that southern African markets basically all sell the same products. Maputo’s FEIMA Market is a true exception. It had the coolest, most colorful batik paintings! Venders also offered many handmade baskets and unique woodwork that I had not encountered before. My only complaint was that prices were not cheap (yet still low for American standards).

  4. Fabulous ocean views

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    Maputo’s view of the Indian Ocean…and a jetski.

    Although most tourists go to Mozambique to visit its beaches in the Bazaruto Archipelago to the north, I argue there’s plenty to do in Maputo. While its beaches are not swim-friendly, there’s space to walk around, watch zillions of little crabs budge out of sand holes, drink fresh coconut water, and take pics of the clear ocean alongside the city skyscrapers.

  5. The closest you’ll get to North Korea

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    This statue of Mozambique’s first president Samora Machel was sent to Mozambique by North Korea.

    Because Mozambique is a socialist state, it’s received support from Cuba, Russia, and—you guessed it—North Korea. In fact, in 2011 a Pyongyang-based business sent a large statue of Mozambican father Samora Machel to be erected in the middle of Maputo, where it stands today. A couple miles away there’s also Kim Il Sung Avenue, which borders Mao Tse Tung Avenue! Although my political beliefs are far from socialist or communist, my time in Mozambique and South Africa have made me appreciate the good work done by people professing those ideologies. Historically many Mozambicans have been educated in Cuba. Additionally, countless of South Africa’s greatest anti-apartheid proponents were members of the South African Communist Party.

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Sthembeka and I enjoying some ice cream on our big day, after Sthembeka couldn’t stand her seafood meal’s stench.

 

What can I say?! My Mozambican birthday was exceptional, but did I need to visit another country for such memories? Perhaps my greatest experiences happened in my “home” town of Durban, South Africa. There I celebrated the eve of my birthday with my host sister, Sthembeka, who would turn 10 a day after I turned 21. Highlights of our celebration are as follows:

 

  • Watching Hotel Transylvania 3 (in 3D)- Sthembeka had never been to a movie theatre before, let alone watched a 3D film!
  • Eating decadent seafood- Sthembeka ordered the seafood platter, but didn’t like it after smelling it enter the table. What a pity for her…but a delight for her Gogo (Zulu for “grandmother”) and I!
  • Exchanging gifts- I gave Sthembeka chopsticks (she’d wanted to learn to use them while I wanted to teach her), a diary with a lock (something I always wished for as a kid), and dominoes. I in turn received a cute note, beads, and local chocolate.

As I revel in my 21st birthday’s awesomeness, I encourage you to begin planning your next big one. Are you hitting the brink of middle age at 30? Perhaps you’re approaching the half century mark or are three quarters of the way there! It doesn’t matter because it’s never too late to start planning…or treating everyday like your big day!

 

Other memorable moments in Mozambique:

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At Maputo’s cashew market, I bought ½ kilo (1.1 lb.) of cashews.
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Pastel de nata is an egg custard pastry with cinnamon sprinkled on top.
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I asked a local produce vender if I could take a photo in front of her booth. This photo looks so staged now!
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Here’s a male blue-headed tree agama I found on a tree near the FEIMA Market.
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YIKES!!! A doll-faced, full-sized mannequin made an appearance at the FEIMA Market.

…Back in South Africa, I’ve recorded some other birthday week moments:

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What a thrill to watch a horse race at Greyville Race Course in Durban! My first live horse race!
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Celebrating South Africa’s Heritage Day by having a braii (barbecue) with the Durban Ramblers hiking club after a 10 kilometer (about 6 miles) hike! Nell (at left) and I grilled boerewors (Afrikaans for “bratwursts”). It was my first time grilling meat.

 

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