Groot Marico seems to be famous for two things. Mampoer and the Herman Charles Bosman Festival.
Earlier this year the Bosman festival celebrated its 15th year and my wife and I decided to pay the town and the festival a visit.
The drive there is not a particularly scenic one and with the exception of having to interact with the traffic police in Swartruggens it was mostly uneventful.
We stayed at Groot Marico Bushveld Chalets, owned and run by Abe Herbst and what a gem this accommodation was. Aside from being mobbed by his dogs, at least one of which my wife wanted to bring home, he and his wife went out of their way to make sure that our short stay was a memorable one. The accommodation was charming and not even a total power failure due to an electrical storm could upset our stay there. A story teller of note in his own right, Abe regaled us with his own bushveld stories while we set up our evening braai. (And yes he did offer us some peach brandy!)
The Bosman weekend is usually held in October and is coordinated and run by Santa van Bart and her husband Egbert. It is due to their persistence and ongoing hard work that the H.C Bosman Living Museum continues to function and document his life and works. They are currently working on plans to build a cultural village that they hope will give work to some of the locals as well as increase tourism to their town.
We arrived at the venue on Saturday morning to the smell of moer koffie and baking rooster koek. Moer koffie may never be a threat to designer coffees, but rooster koek could find its way into more main stream establishments.
It is basically dough baked over an open flame, but growing up we used to cook it on the stove using a cake rack to keep the dough off the direct heat. Smeared with real butter and lots of jam or honey this is a bushveld treat of note and almost worth the admission price alone! (As part of the admission price guests are given tin mugs on lanyards which can be used for either the moer koffie, the ginger beer, tasting the mampoer or all three. This formed a heady mixture that I would not want to repeat on a regular basis).
Aside from Bosman performances visitors can get the opportunity to view works by local artists as well as sample the home-made ginger beer.
And if you wanted to have a hands on experience, try painting walls with cow dung…my wife tried and seemed to enjoy getting her hands dirty!
And if all this is too much then you can do as the press release says… “Just sommer kuier in the shade of one of the thorn trees”.
Patrick Mynhardt, who brought Oom Schalk to life, attended 13 festivals. Only ill health (2006) and his untimely death in London in 2007 prevented him from attending all of them. His portrayal as Oom Schalk was missed this year but both his spirit and that of Herman Charles Bosman was brought to life by a new crop of performers.
Barbie Meyer’s version of “Bekkersdal Marathon” had me laughing out loud. Like any good “shaggy dog” story it can be expanded or condensed depending on the response of the audience .It’s also one of the Oom Schalk stories that tends to get funnier every time I hear it.
If it was not for the festival, I have a suspicion that Groot Marico would become just another town to bypass rather than stop to explore. The single main street boasts an old fashioned general store, a hotel and a great butchery…if you don’t mind being peered at by dead animals hanging on the walls while you buy your meat.
Groot Marico seems to want to be a mixture of Clarens (with art galleries) and Nieeu Bethesda (for its craft studios), but at present it falls somewhere in between.
Currently it seems that most of the inhabitants of Groot Marico are retired and their main income comes from farming. There is a shop in town that offers classes in glass making which is next door to a small tea garden. In order for the town to flourish it would need to increase the number of craft shops in order to attract visitors. The only ‘local’ artist we found is based in Rustenburg.
Perhaps it’s because I spent some years living in small towns in the Eastern Cape that makes me want to see this town become a destination rather that just a blur as you pass by en route to Botswana or Madikwe. Or perhaps it’s because of the people that we got to meet during our weekend that made this small town special.
But whatever the reason I urge you to take time to visit our small towns before they completely disappear from the map.
Groot Marico information centre: 014 503 0085 or 083 272 2958
Marico Bushveld Accommodation (highly recommended) contact Abe Herbst on 083 259 1284