We spent a requisite night in Dar es Salaam, the capital of Tanzania, before catching the ferry to Stone Town, Zanzibar. Like most other African capitals, Dar is a large, unattractive and seemingly soulless city, but at least Gil had the good fortune of winning a ticket to the upcoming Nation's Cup qualifying match between the Tanzania and Mozambique national teams from Serengeti Lager while we were there (to the displeasure of the locals, of course).
For being so close in proximity, Zanzibar seems much more vibrant than Dar. The unique Swahili culture that originated in this and other nearby islands still holds strong. It's had a lasting impact on the rest of East Africa as well, from providing a unifying regional language to initiating the spread of the Islamic religion.
Stone Town's narrow, winding streets are lined with white coral buildings that shuffle back and forth between Arabian, African, Indian and European architectural influences. Although decaying from years of neglect (the local museum placed the blame on Tanzania's experiment with socialism when most private property was seized for common public use), their cracked and blackened exteriors only seem to add to the beauty and exoticism of the city.
The people reflect a similar amalgamation of cultures, from their many different skin colors to the etymology of the words that compose the Swahili language they speak. Other evidence of this melting pot of societies include the Islamic dress of the Zanzibarian women, whose brightly colored head scarves and embroidered dresses are a far cry from the traditional black-as-night attire worn by the women in Egypt and Middle Eastern countries.
While Zanzibar has a thriving tourist industry, Stone Town retains much of its traditional charm through features such as the local fish market. In how many other places can you see a 100 lb. swordfish and buckets of sardines being auctioned off to the highest bidder? There are also many artisans in residence in there, continuing the crafts of the wood carvers and "tinga tinga" painters who came before them. We even got to enjoy a concert of local students learning to play traditional Zanzibarian instruments and music.
Perhaps less authentic, but certainly as enjoyable, is the nightly queue of vendors serving up grilled seafood to hungry tourists. From barracuda to shark, you can get pretty much anything you desire for dirt cheap (no, unfortunately they haven't caught on to the idea of sustainable fishing yet). After enjoying a sunset beer and having some fresh grilled seafood we watched the local boys try to out do each other diving from the docks and performing acrobatics on the beach.