The soothing sounds of silence

There I was, bogged down in the daily grind of living in Jozi, battling through the usual traffic snarl-up because one particular set of traffic lights had been out for days, wondering for the umpteenth time why metro cops never come to sort out the tangle, breathing in the stink of exhaust fumes, cursing at the taxi driver overtaking illegally, ears assaulted by the cacophony, dreading the unavoidable trip to the shops on the way home: trolley gridlock, inane muzak, unintelligible intercom announcements, till buzzers, children shrieking at supersonic decibels — Forget road rage; I was on the verge of terminal life rage.

So when my colleague Helena asked me along on a weekend getaway to a self-catering cottage on a farm she knows just outside Groot Marico, I didn’t just leap at the chance, I grand jetéd.

We set off on a rainy Friday morning, not too worried about the weather—if it poured all weekend, we were forearmed with a few good books. But I’d checked out the forecast for the region online and the chances of rain for the following two days were slim.
As it turned out, the weather was glorious, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

There are a number of routes one can use to get from Johannesburg to Groot Marico, either north and then west through Hartebeespoort Dam and Rustenburg, or west and then northwest past Krugersdorp and the Maropeng World Heritage Site through Magaliesburg, but a friend had told Helena about a third, shorter route through Derby, Koster and Swartruggens. The catch was the possible state of the road. The rain had dissipated well before we reached Derby, so we decided to chance it.

I felt a moment’s puzzlement when I saw the first warning sign for potholes: it’s a large exclamation mark inside a triangle, without any other information. Its meaning soon became clear, however! You could see where stretches of potholes were by watching cars up ahead playing dodgems. Locals have made crude attempts to patch the worst of the holes with rammed clay, but, although it was okay at a moderate speed during daylight, it’s not a road I would hazard at night. Still, travelling time was a comfortable three hours and we liked the route well enough to return the same way.

Home comforts
The small dorp of Groot Marico is well known as Herman Charles Bosman country and for its annual festival in his honour. We stopped off briefly at the quirky information centre, which acts as a central booking service for several guest farms and also sells crafts, art works and homemade jams, then bought some locally baked bread at the café and went across the road to stock up on local boerewors and sosaties.

Then it was time to make our last cellphone contact with civilisation before tackling the rough road down to River Still farm on the banks of the Groot Marico River. The name River Still is a bit of a double entrendre: yes, the river does run quietly through the property, but the owner, Jacques du Plessis, also distils mampoer from a mix of citrus fruit. At 50% alcohol per volume, it’s potent stuff.

There are several cottages of varying sizes on the farm, at a comfortably discreet distance from each other. Helena had booked the one called River Cottage, which is closest to the swimming hole. With two bedrooms, it sleeps four. The rooms share a bathroom with toilet, basin and shower. A large room combines kitchen, dining and a lounge area with a fireplace. There is electricity, so the kitchen has a fridge, kettle, toaster and microwave, though indoor cooking is on a two-plate gas stove—outdoors is a braai (stock up on braaiwood at the butchery in town). Pots, crockery and cutlery are basic but adequate for most needs. But best of all is a shady stoep with a long table and (fairly) comfy chairs. The stoep overlooks a lower patio area—- it would be worth schlepping along a few fold-up loungers for lazy afternoons in the shade of the overhanging trees.

Busy doing nothing
Besides serious chillaxing, there are a variety of activities, should you feel inclined to do something. Birders should pack their guidebooks and binoculars. A basic nature guide to Bushveld flora and fauna would be useful—we saw a variety of butterflies, orb-web spiders, huge songololos, frogs. The Groot Marico River is said to be one of the cleanest rivers in the country, so swimming is safe. There’s a two-seater canoe available. Take along your own flotation devices and go for a float. Winding paths cut through the bush for leisurely strolls along the river, or don your hiking boots and cross the rickety bridges above the rapids to explore the dense bush along the kranzes opposite.

There’s even a meditation spiral to walk. And don’t be surprised if the farm’s friendly dogs decide to hang out with you.

The region is malaria-free, which isn’t the same as mozzie-free, though I only got buzzed by a grand total of two and only during the day. Even better, there seem to be no annoying houseflies, though ants can be a problem in the kitchen, so clean up spills and stow food carefully.

But, best of all, there’s the peace and quiet. I had forgotten that natural quiet is not an absence of sound: the dawn chorus of birds, the somnolent midday buzzing of insects, the night choir of frogs, the stirring of a breeze through trees, the distant crowing of roosters.

And at night, the myriad stars in the Milky Way are so dense, so close, you can almost hear them
singing —

For more information visit: riverstill.co.za. To book accommodation, contact Santa van Bart at the Information Centre.

Tel: 083 272 2958 or 014 503 0085 Email: info@marico.co.za

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