Magical Groot Marico has good, clever souls
There is a lovely road that runs from Groot Marico into the hills. And the hills are covered with bush and rolling, and they are lovely beyond any singing of it.
The road heads southwards to somewhere or other (I have no idea where), but I was mightily impressed by the fact that such a deeply rural road was tarred.
The road, whatever its name or whatever its number, crosses the railway line just outside the town and then meanders into some or other part of the bushveld. It is one of those roads you imagine just goes on forever. It was recently tarred but not terribly well; already the potholes are starting to appear.
One morning the week before last I was driving towards Marico along this road when I came across the strangest thing: two perfectly gorgeous blonde, young German students riding bicycles. We stopped to greet each other and they flashed gorgeous young, blonde German smiles at me. We explained to each other what we were doing in the back of beyond, wished each other happy days and went our separate ways. And I thought to myself: what a wonderfully odd world we live in.
The young Germans aren't tourists; they're volunteers who come to the Groot Marico for three months to a year to work. The two on the bicycles report every day to the Many Hands Cooperative run by Jolene Muir, the woman under whose roof I had slept the night before. Another two whom I met later report for duty every day at the village creche.
The first night I was in Groot Marico Jolene took me to a farm on the other side of town, the venue for a get-together over pasta that is owned by Colin and Maggie. They are the local rooineks; Brits who have retired to the land of Herman Charles Bosman. Everyone speaks English to them and they all get along just fine. The people at the get-together were all members of the Bosman Literary Society and were gearing up for the annual Bosman festival next month, which sounds like a helluva jol.
The next day Jolene took me to see the replica of the famous writer's little school that members of the society had built in town out of reclaimed sun-baked bricks and natural clay plaster, and which is the main venue for the festival.
Then she took me to an old railway house that the society lets out (for either a peppercorn rent or nothing at all) to writers who want to get away from it all and, well, write. There I met Lesego, who had been in residence for a month or so. He bemoaned the fact that just that morning he had broken his reading glasses. It turns out we have a similar prescription and so I gave him my off-the-shelf pair (not much use being a writer if you can't read and you're 50km from the nearest Clicks). I knew I had a spare pair at home.
Then I went to check out the cooperative where two of the pretty young Germans and 35 villagers work making stuff they sell to tourists. In between, Jolene explained her life story to me; about how she was married to an art teacher who spent weekdays in Zeerust, how she had farmed with cattle, been a journalist, did music and painting and community work and ran drumming classes.
And the Djembe Backpackers Lodge where I stayed. She introduced me to Santa, the bustling, smiley, pretty woman who runs the Marico information centre, her bearded Oom Schalk-lookalike husband Egbert, the philosopher king of the Marico, to Johan, the world famous sculptor, Grant the ponytailed young sound therapist oke and Jacques, who owns the famously serene River Still guest farm.
And as I sat on Santa and Egbert's stoep drinking coffee, eating biscuits and talking nonsense, I thought how terribly clever all these authentically clever people were to be able to keep body and soul together doing the various things they loved doing where they wanted to while doing a bit of good in a magical little part of South Africa called Groot Marico.
There is another road off the N4 near Groot Marico which runs for all of 4.5km - I measured it - also going nowhere and which was tarred, seemingly, in the 1970s. The locals told me it goes to the farm of a chap who, back then, worked for the provincial roads department.