"Where have we landed?!" exclaimed Kavitha gazing up at the enormous crystal chandelier. "This place is incredible!"
"I feel a bit underdressed," said Abeja looking at her dirty T-shirt and shabby safari pants.
"I bet they have hot showers here...aaaaaahhhhh," sighed Monica, lounging back on the thick Persian rug.
Little did they know, that here in this land of legends and kingdoms, these four weary travelers would be transformed into four princesses...for the magic of Marrakech is not just kept to the fairy tales! First our friends enjoyed refreshments on a silver platter. Then Ali's niece Sarah escorted them to the local Turkish bathhouse, called a hammam. There in the hot steamy rooms of the tiled bathhouse, the transformation began. One by one our tired trekkers were massaged, bathed, scrubbed, and rubbed. One by one the harsh layers of travel were shed...dirt, aching muscles, and all the other ailments that had amassed during the long journey were washed away by the gentle hands of the women at the hammam.
The four princesses exited the steamy bath room wrapped in towels, and sat in peaceful silence. They breathed in deeply, and melted back into the cushions of the sitting room. There was a new glow about them.
"I can't believe how relaxed I feel," sighed Kavitha.
Sarah escorted the trekkers back to the palace and gave them clean clothes to wear. Then they sat down to a lavish feast fit for a king. There were roasted chickens, salads, fresh breads, olives, rice drenched in exotic new spices, cups overflowing with fine wines and juices, baskets brimming with fruits and homemade cakes.
"I can't believe this!" exclaimed Monica. "We hardly just met these people and they invite us into their home and give us all this?!"
"Ali, thank you so much for everything. Your family has given us so much," said Abeja after dinner. "Now we should get out of your way. Can you please recommend a hotel for us?"
So our four friends stayed with Ali and his generous family in their beautiful palace. Every day they received the same royal treatment. After waking to a breakfast of fresh pastries and teas, fruits and cheeses, they were taken to visit all the elite spots of Marrakech.
"Your carriage awaits you," Prince Ali would greet them, and then show them to the horse carriage outside. They visited the royal pools, were serenaded in the olive groves, and rode camels to mountain villas. Every day they returned home to decadent feasts with family and friends.
"Ahhhh, it's so beautiful," remarked Monica. "I've never felt like this in all my life--it's like a fairy tale."
"All this indulgence has been a nice break. We're being so spoiled," said Kavitha. "But are we really seeing Marrakech? This can't be how the whole city lives...I mean, listen to all that's going on out there."
"Yeah, it's like we're princesses in a royal palace, and we're trapped in these luxurious surroundings, sheltered from the real world," continued Abeja.
"Just like the princess in the movie Aladdin!" exclaimed Jasmine. "What was her name anyway...?"
"But what can we do? Ali's family has been so kind to us. How can we tell them that we want more? …That we want to see how the other half lives? If we tell Ali we want to go see the city he'll insist on sending one of his cousins to escort us and insist we go in his carriage."
"It's true. They're all so wonderful, but I want to experience it without the royal touch."
Their adventurous traveler juices flowed as they plotted their get-away. The next afternoon after feasting on an enormous lunch of fresh fish and vegetables, the young women retired into their room for a nap. They stuffed pillows under the blankets to look like bodies and climbed over the balcony down the grape trellises.
"We did it! We're down...now let's get to the city!"
Surely enough they did. The narrow streets all emptied out into an enormous square buzzing with activity. In front of them was the Place Djemaa el-Fna. Smoke rising from the food stands mixed with the evening lights creating a mystical veil over the entire square. Wide-eyed and amazed, the four trekkers joined the thousands of other people and entered the veil.
Instantly they were greeted by exotic scents and intriguing sounds, by fabrics to feel and jewels to hold, by new foods to try and strange acts to watch. It was a sensation for all the senses.
The mystical music of a flute drew the princesses closer and closer to men with snakes around their arms. Two cobras swayed, rising from the ground. Soon Kavitha was sitting close up front, a snake sliding around her shoulders. Enchanted, she stared and swayed to the music.
Kavitha was entranced. "One-hundred dirham," she repeated, reaching for her wallet.
"Oh no you don't!" Monica shouted, grabbing Kavitha and breaking the spell. "Here's ten dirham. Let's get out of here!"
"Thanks Monica," said Kavitha shaking her head like she just woke up. "I can't believe I almost gave him that much money!"
"Maybe Ali was right," Jasmine wondered out loud. "Maybe it is too dangerous for us out here alone, everyone will try to cheat us."
"No way--we're not leaving yet!" Abeja exclaimed. "Look at all this amazing food!" The trekkers' attention turned towards the never-ending stalls of food. The rising tendrils of smoke seemed to head directly under their noses and pull them forward with the tantalizing aromas. The four princesses, spellbound, headed towards the food, not even noticing the fire blowers, glass-walkers and acrobats they were passing on the way.
Beyond the stalls overflowing with fresh fruit, dates and nuts, the culinary cuisine began. Every stall was arranged with food piled high in inviting mounds, bursting with fresh colors of the harvest -- attention to aesthetic detail was obviously as important as the taste itself. Chefs courted the trekkers as they walked through the aisles, inviting them to taste delicacies that, of course, far surpassed anything in neighboring stalls. There were grilled peppers, shish kebobs, lentil stews, colorful salads, braised fish, heads of lamb, spicy sauces, and endless stacks of Moroccan breads.
One stand in particular was surrounded by swarms of people. "I wonder what's cooking there," pointed Monica. The girls pushed their way to the front to find the source of the rising steam. What they found was a large vat of snails!
"Yes, you've come to taste the escargot!" said the cheerful chef. "How many bowls would you like?"
The trekkers looked at each other hesitatingly. "Just one for now."
"Oh come on! I'll try the first one!" said Abeja, the adventurous one. She grabbed a snail, dug a toothpick into the swirly shell, and pulled out the slimy flesh. "Hmmmm....." she said, undecided after tasting her first bite. She reached in for another. After chewing her second snail she exclaimed, with a big smile on her face, "they're really good!"
Kavitha tried one next, swallowed it down and put down her toothpick. "They're not bad I guess. Just a bit slimy for me."
"Aren't you guys going to try them?" said Abeja to Monica and Jasmine.
"No way! I'm gonna go get me some french fries!" said Jasmine.
"This means you are meant to stay and live here in Marrakech," remarked a local to Abeja as she finished the bowl.
After filling up on yummy treats, the trekkers took one last tour through the market, past the stands of herbal medicines and displays of delicately painted pottery, past stacks of elaborate Persian rugs and intricate silver jewelry.
"We better go back soon, or they'll notice we're gone," said Monica as she noticed the first stars shining in the night sky.
As they rode their carriage home through the city streets, the four friends sat smiling thinking of their fabulous day out in the city of Marrakech. They climbed up the trellises back to their beautiful room and emerged to find a feast of colorful salads, spicy sauces, and stacks of fresh Moroccan breads.
Maybe it wasn't that they were being sheltered from the real life in the city after all. Maybe magical Marrakech--with all its beauty, intrigue, and hospitality-- brings out the little princess (or prince) in us all.
Abeja - I'm Sittin' on Top of the World!
Team - Moroccan Women...Caught Between Two Worlds
Abeja gets M.A.D. -- She's Making a Difference
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