INTRODUCTION Some of our guests visit the historic island of Zanzibar, just off the east coast of mainland Tanzania. Zanzibar is a part of Tanzania. It is only 35 miles northeast of Dar es Salaam; a fifteen minute airline flight ($40. each way) or ninety minute ferry boat ride from Dar ($35. each way). The Zanzibar experience offers a look at Africa's unique past and a time gone by. It also offers spectacular natural beauty. The mixture of Bantu cultures, with an infusion of Arab influence and rule, produced a unique Swahili culture unlike anything else the world has known. Stone Town's museums provide insight into this mixture of Bantu and Arab culture and the Arab rulers who were power brokers for most of the central Africa coastline and the impact they had on the interior. Being a tourist today is to experience a place with an important, if nefarious history. The Arab reign of influence ended with the beginning of Africa's European colonial period at the late 1800's and first half of the 1900's. Zanzibar Island was the first outpost of trade and commerce in this part of the world. It was the crossroad for China, India, Europe and Africa. Slaves, ivory, and spices attracted ocean going vessels from all over the known world. The Sultans of Zanzibar exerted influence all along the Swahili coast and their subjects, the Arab traders, penetrated deep into central Africa. They subjugated local chiefs, pillaged villages and towns, depopulated vast sections of the interior by taking slaves, and conducted wars for pure economic gain. It is also the place where explorers like Livingstone, Stanley, Burton, and Speke organized expeditions. There are really two Zanzibar experiences. The first is centered on Zanzibar's historic past and along with today's Islamic culture as found in Old Stone Town on the western side of the island. The second Zanzibar experience is to enjoy the spectacular white sand beaches, tourist resorts, and water activities largely located on the east coast of the island. With enough time, the visitor can take in both of these unique experiences. Having visited Old Stone Town, Lowell for the first time and Kimberly Wertz for her third visit, each had different reactions and reflections about the place. Here are two quite different opinions for you to consider concerning Old Stone Town. ZANZIBAR'S OLD STONE TOWNLowell: Point #1 -- Old Stone Town is Ugly I really didn't enjoy Old Stone Town. The place had trash lying around. There was no beauty in the plants or lawns. The narrow alleyways freaked me out. Stone Town's tiny alley ways are lined with shops, heaps of trash, and characters that look like they stepped off a movie set. While I don't think crime is a major issue, you sure felt like it should be when you were in tiny alleyways. It makes you feel vulnerable. The buildings all seem to need some serious TLC. Little things like paint and replacing broken cement and boards would help the ugliness factor immensely. The place is simply "run down". This environment is so different you will have to work at enjoying it. I couldn't seem to make the effort. It seems like no one really cares about how the place looks. The buildings are not well restored. I am not sure how you would even go about such a restoration. It begs the question, how do you restore Old Stone Town which, at its height, was an important center but even then was never a really nice. Do you make it nicer than it originally was? I am not exactly sure what should be done to fix it up, but something should be done. One of the reasons I feel that more should be done to clean, beautify, and preserve the historic district is that this place has an amazing history buried inside neglected buildings and under all the trash. Kathrine: Counterpoint # 1 -- Old Stone Town is UniqueI have never been anywhere quite like Old Stone Town. It is the cultural heart of Zanzibar, pulsing with its own unique life. As a student of Arab culture and a missionary kid at home in Bantu culture, I am intrigued by Stone Town's fusion of the two cultures. Stone Town's museums and architecture invite people to experience a taste of Zanzibar's history. In many places, today's Stone Town is hardly changed from how it would have appeared in the 19th century. While Dad would like to see everything repaired and whitewashed, I would much rather see Stone Town in its authentic, though faded, glory. I really like the alleyways. They lend to the mystery and individuality of the little town. Wandering through the cobblestone passageways, one never knows what will be around the next corner or behind the ornately carved wooden doors. I will admit that pedestrians may be occasionally startled by vehicles being squeezed through the narrow passageways by seemingly insane Zanzibar drivers. But you probably won't get run over, and you may even end up enjoying the Zanzibar drivers as incredible entertainment. Stone Town has recently been made a world heritage center by UNESCO, who said the following about it: "The Stone Town of Zanzibar is a fine example of the Swahili coastal trading towns of East Africa. It retains its urban fabric and townscape virtually intact and contains many fine buildings that reflect its particular culture, which has brought together and homogenized disparate elements of the cultures of Africa, the Arab region, India, and Europe over more than a millennium." On a side note, Stone Town's unique atmosphere is definitely enriched by its tourists. I have never seen a tourist culture quite like Zanzibar's. It is a fun environment for the young, relaxed Bohemian. If this describes you, you will feel at home amongst your people. Lowell: Point #2 -- Old Stone Town is ripping off tourists without giving much back. Today's black African and Arab Muslim culture embraces tourists and their dollars. Maybe that should be no surprise, but I was very surprised to find the shops had posted their prices in US dollars instead of Tanzania shillings. It is the only place in Tanzania I have encountered it. They would accept their own currency � the Tanzania Shilling, if you asked. But they would take out a calculator and translate from dollars back to the local currency! And give you a poor exchange rate! Zanzibar's 98% Muslim population make tourists feel very welcome. If you are wondering about Muslims wanting Americans around, in Zanzibar they do want you and your money. But those smiling faces aren't just because they are a "happy people". They are businessmen and you are business. Mind you, I see nothing wrong with making an honest profit. But this place gives "interest in history" a bad name. When I asked several tourists, before I visited there, if Zanzibar was wonderful, they could not affirm it. But it still attracts tourists by the thousands. Maybe the residents of Zanzibar have come up with the winning formula. Crummy old buildings coupled with an ancient evil culture bring the tourists by the plane and boat loads. Make no mistake; this place is no Disney World. Stone Town could be a nice place. It isn't. Kathrine: Counterpoint #2 -- Old Stone Town is a great experience for tourists. I totally disagree with Dad's point that Old Stone Town is ripping off tourists without giving much back. Stone Town can be enjoyed on a shoestring budget and with great value, as Luke and I have discovered. The museums are affordable, with their $3 entry fee. Stone Town is small enough to be experienced on foot, so if you enjoy walking you won't have transportation costs. We stayed at a clean and simple hotel for $15 a night per person, including breakfast. You can find good deals on food, too, especially the street vendors selling great seafood for just a couple hundred shillings. Zanzibar can be costly if you want to spend the money, but it can also be cheap if you don't. The experience of Stone Town is enjoyable and worth a visit. In response to Dad's suggestion that the people of Zanzibar are mercenaries with an agenda of ripping off American tourists, I'll just share a story. One of my favorite memories of Stone Town didn't cost a penny; it was a gift of welcoming Zanzibaris. A friend and I were wandering through Stone Town when we came upon the Old Dispensary. Music streamed from the building, and being curious people, we poked our noses in. We found ourselves suddenly in the midst of a Muslim wedding, being welcomed by strangers to come in and join the festivities. We stayed for about an hour and took pictures. It was the first time my friend had been to a Muslim wedding, and the friendliness and extravagant hospitality that were extended to us really made our day. Old Stone Town is not ripping off tourists without giving much back. If you go there and have a bad time, it probably is not the fault of Stone Town's people. Lowell: Point #3 -- Old Stone Town's "House of Wonders" is not wonderful.The huge national museum, the House of Wonders ($3. entrance fee), left me wondering why more people didn't consider this place a national disgrace. The biggest wonder is how such an eyesore could have lasted this long without someone digging out a bulldozer. It was shabby and the displays, although sometimes educational, needed better presentation. The building was meant, when it was built, to be "ultra-modern" for its day. It was the first building in Zanzibar to have electricity, an elevator, and plumbed water. But it looks like it has been left go for about a hundred years. Tile on the floors was so poorly laid - I assume a recent restoration - that they didn't even scrap off the excess cement grouting. A six year old could have done a better job. This place was ugly! They probably couldn't think what else to do with a big eyesore so they said, "Fill it up with junk and then we can fill it with tourists." Even Dr. Livingstone's supposed medicine chest had someone else's name on it. Come on� how do we know it really belonged to him! Kathrine: Counterpoint #3 -- Old Stone Town's "House of Wonders" is educational. The House of Wonders, originally constructed by Sultan Seyyid Barghash for ceremonial purposes, was the first building on Zanzibar to have electricity and running water and the first building in East Africa to have an elevator. I agree with Dad that the building is less wonderful now than when it was first built, but its function today is to provide insight into the history of the island. It is certainly more educational than glamorous, so if you're after aesthetics, skip it. But anyone interested in the history of the Swahili culture will enjoy a walk through this educational museum. I can promise you that it is unlike any museum you've ever been to before! Lowell: Point #4 -- Old Stone Town is a remnant of an evil culture that should be hated by every civilized person.Old Stone Town is not the Greek Parthenon. I find little to glorify in the history of this culture, other than, it is done and over with. The Arab culture of days past merged with ancient Black African cultures has emerged today a culture of black African Muslims scrambling to make a living. The failure of Arab rule gives one a sense of pathos for the people of today's Zanzibar and their situation. It is interesting that the deposed Sultan of Zanzibar now lives in exile in London. For all the "glory" of past history, things haven't worked out very well even to the present. Their historical pinnacle occurred when their society embraced slavery and cruelty. These ancient Arabs, and many black Africans, turned a blind eye toward injustice for the sake of material gain. You have the feeling that you are not only visiting dilapidated buildings of that era, but also the remnants and ruins of an evil culture that noone today wants to celebrate. Decent folks are horrified by it. We need to stare at it and see what really happened here. This is a place to affirm the future of humanity by rejecting this past. Today, when you visit Old Stone Town, you will find in it working people living in a new and emerging history of democracy, tolerance, and capitalism. These people are struggling economically but are free. Some of the Muslims I spoke with are demanding their political rights and politics here sometimes gets rough. But one cannot help but wonder if all that ancient and evil history that brings visitors from all over the world hasn't carried with it a price. Is that price still being paid by the whole world, all of Africa, and especially the people of Zanzibar? Zanzibar is the place where slavers marketed their goods at immense human costs. It is where ivory made men rich and for greed of it men became inhuman killers. Here the darkest side of humanity took hold and flourished. Even today I find it hard to make it into a "nice place". Good feelings come in short supply for me in Old Stone Town. Kathrine: Counterpoint #4 -- Old Stone Town is an evolving culture.My reaction to Stone Town's cultural history is this: it is one of dramatic evolution, and experiencing its past gives you a sense of how it is changing. Like every civilization, it has its remnants of evil. One only needs to visit the ruins of the Old Slave Market to understand why Zanzibar is infamously recognized as the capital of the slave trade on the East African Coast. The ruins of the slave trade are an ugly monument to one of the ugliest atrocities of African history. However, the purpose of visiting these ruins is not to glorify this aspect of Zanzibar's past, but to behold it and understand it � something I found to be worthwhile. In addition to being a slave trade center, Stone Town was also a base of operation for abolitionists and missionaries such as David Livingstone, and you can visit the Livingstone House while you are there. Stone Town's remnants of evil are juxtaposed with remnants of grace. The social, political, and economic oppressions Zanzibar's past have produced a proud, struggling people who value the level of political and cultural autonomy they now enjoy. Today, Zanzibar is an African Islamic society that upholds religious and cultural tolerance. When I note how some female tourists dress in this conservative Muslim society, and the welcome with which they are received, I am amazed how culturally tolerant these gracious people are.ZANZIBAR: THE ISLAND OF BEAUTIFUL BEACHESNo matter what differing opinions may be expressed concerning Old Stone Town, there seems to be no difference of opinion among us concerning the resort area of eastern Zanzibar. It was fabulous. Let me start out by saying, I am not a beach person. I hate sand, sunburns, and having nothing interesting to do. That being said, I loved our time in eastern Zanzibar. An hour taxi drive away from Stone Town, on a good paved road and at a cost of $35.00, lays a world of beauty. The sparkling blue ocean kisses the pure white sand in what seems like an endless tropical paradise. You have to see it to believe it. We arrived on Zanzibar without reservations for a place to stay and ended up at a place called Kitete Beach Bungalows in Paje. The bungalows were very nice, spanking clean, and looked like they were quite new. For $40. per double room and $20. for a single, it is a bargain. And that includes a breakfast of toast, eggs, juice, coffee and tea, and all the tropical fruit you can eat. The staff was very laid back and super friendly. It was totally enjoyable. The beaches are dotted with resorts and the resort owners seem to all cooperate with each other. Whatever you would like can be arranged. I brought my fishing equipment and wanted to catch some ocean fish. Our first outing was in an open boat with an old 25 hip. outboard. No like jackets, unfortunately. Three of us went fishing and it was fun. The cost was $60. for about 3 hours. The entire beach is protected by a huge coral reef out about a half mile from shore upon which rather significant waves break. It was much calmer along the shore side of the reef, but the big fish were along the outside edge of the reef. Our "captain" found a whole through the reef and into the big waves we went. It was one wild ride. The swells were between 8 and 12 feet high. We caught a small barracuda and a blackbanded trevally. The Kitete Beach Bunglow kitchen staff cleaned and cooked our fish and only charged us for the rice we ate with it! The fish were excellent eating and tasted twice as good because of the friendly nature of tiny restraurant. A couple of days later, upon reflecting on the no life jacket situation, we hired a larger and more substantial boat. It was a professional fishing boat complete with out-riggers and a 115 h.p. Yamaha outboard and a spare 25 h.p. engine in the hold. It cost $350. for 6 hours. We caught a small kingfish and a large barracuda. The great fun was spoilt by huge swells that made everyone on board seasick. We cut off the trip early. But it was an experience of a life-time. Again, for no charge, they cleaned and cooked the kingfish at the restraurant. What a deal! Scuba diving and snorkeling are big activities here and are world class. Visibility is spectacular. Luke, who had never been scuba diving before, took an introductory course for $80. It included a video and Q & A session and two dives from a boat. The first dive was a practice dive in shallower water. The second dive, to a depth of 10 meters, was conducted at a where dozens of stingrays gathered. Swimming with the dolphins is also a sport here. We will wait until next time to try this one. Luke found an internet connection at the resort next to ours and soon he could get us our emails. We needed a table in our room so the manager hauled one into our room from the restaurant. It was just a great time and the management could not have been nicer to us. The resorts had wonderful beach chairs and couches. The palm trees provided some shade for those not wanting to burn, but sunscreen is always the order of the day. An African lady was giving massages to anyone wanting them at a cost of $6. for 30 minutes and $10. for an hour. Right on the beach in a beach lounger! Even the sand was wonderful. The fine sand dried quickly and fell off of you without sticking. I feared I would soon find sand in everything I owned, but this wasn't the case. The pure white sand added much to the beauty and didn't seem to have the usual sand "downside" of getting into everything you own.. Our stay on the east coast of Zanzibar simply could not have been nicer or more relaxing. Even if you hate beach vacations, you might love this one. Some Detailed Information. Kitete Beach Bungalows on the East Coast at Paje Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Website: www.kitetebeach.com Tel: 255-24-2240226 Cell Phone: 255-747-475-104 Rates: single $20., double $40. Tembo Hotel located in Stone Town Forodhani Street Tel: 255-24-2233005, 255-24-2232069 Email: email@example.com Website: www.tembohotel.com Rates: single $80., double standard $90., triple $120., extra bed $20.