What I Did Over Spring Break

A few weeks ago I was offered a once-in-a-lifetime chance to complete a long-standing bucket list item: an African photo safari. My new friend Vance from the USA who runs an intimate, very upscale lodge and an exotic species breeding operation in northern South Africa invited Carrie and me to accompany him on one of his regular visits to his “farm.” In fact, his farm is part of the beautiful 150,000 acre Madikwe Game Reserve near the Botswana border, site of the largest game translocation in history. He had promised that “once Africa gets into your heart, it doesn’t let go.” Turns out that would be an understatement. At first I gave the usual protestations that I have way too much going on in my life right now to take ten days out (non-stop blog posts, books, PrimalCon a week later, certifications, seminars, etc.), but I decided I simply couldn’t pass up this opportunity. After all, hadn’t I vowed a year ago to start playing more, and if this wasn’t play, what was? Moreover, here was a chance to literally go back to my Primal roots and do research for The Primal Connection. When he informed me that he even had limited Internet access (but only if you hike up the hill, because it’s not allowed anywhere in the lodge), the deal was sealed. A little work and a little play. Productive leisure is the term they use for it now, but it’s how I roll.

Our prep for the trip was easy: just a carry-on bag full of lightweight clothes in neutral colors. The best part was not having to bring hiking boots. Two pair of Vibrams were all I needed for footwear. I had been warned about the sickle bush thorns that are everywhere in that part of Africa, and that I would need thicker protection for walking through the bush, but a quick perusal of the Vibram site and a call to my friends at Vibram USA brought me some sweet Bormios, sort of a mid-calf, zip-up leather version of KSO Treks. (Over the next week in Madikwe, virtually every guide would ask where he or she might find a pair: it was as if they were designed for the bush. I could have sold a hundred pair). Even Carrie was able to fit ten days worth of travel into a carry-on bag, a first for her. And she also needed only two pair of Vibrams.

We stayed at HillHouse, a small, maximum 10-guest lodge designed by my friend’s very spiritual and slightly eccentric architect to blend into the natural landscape. The rooms and other amenities were five star and the meals not only gourmet, but very Primal as well. My favorite was the grilled kudu steaks with salad greens grown in a beautiful garden sequestered on the property a mile away from the lodge, but every meal was memorable.

An important aspect of Madikwe is that there are no tarred roads (as I am told you’ll find in other game parks). So the animals just treat the dirt roads as part of their playground (and when it rains, the game vehicles can get stuck, which presents some added challenges). The game sightings started literally the first ten minutes we were on the reserve and headed to our quarters, as a few elephants had decided they had the right of way on our road. During a brief stand-off with the mother in the lead protecting her newborn, I asked my host in a whisper if we were in any danger. He stared at the elephant, kept his hand on the ignition key and just said, “uh…maybe.” And so the week went. We were in the thick of it, and it was awesome.

A typical day began with a game drive before sunrise in an open Toyota Land Cruiser with a canvas sunroof. After a sumptuous late breakfast back at the lodge and some napping, swimming or work, there was also a late afternoon drive that included a stop for wine and snacks (a “sundowner”). Each time, within a few minutes of leaving the lodge, we would run into herds of impala, wildebeests, kudu, tsessebe, springbok, waterbuck, sable, zebra and all manner of other grazing animals. There was literally never a dull moment. Our very first night, we came across four lions finishing off a wildebeest they had killed earlier in the day. Carrie got to within maybe 10 feet for her best photo ops. When you hear a lion crunching on the ribs of a wildebeest, you do get the strong sense that nature is truly “red in tooth and claw.” Throughout the week we got up close and personal with giraffes and rhinos, spent an hour off-road in the midst of a herd of 60 elephants, watched for 30 minutes as a male elephant took a mud bath within 10 feet of us, crept down to the river to within 50 yards of seven massive hippos, twice had rare close-in daytime viewings of a herd of cape buffalo (50 or 60 of them) and had countless other delightful “primal meet-ups”. After dinner each night we’d sit and tell tales over a glass of wine around an open fire pit.

We spent a good part of one day visiting the nearby African village of Obakeng. Some of the Madikwe guides had started a program to train young people from the village to compete in the Comrades Marathon. Part of that commitment included planting and tending food gardens in the village or building a shelter in which the youngest villagers could be schooled. The effect these young athletes had on their community was impressive and heart-warming. Carrie spent the day photographing the beautiful young children in the village, almost all of whom were more than willing to pose. From the continuous smiles, I got the sense from these dirt-poor people that “happy” is truly the default setting for all humans. Sad that so many of us have lost that ability to be happy for no reason. Another of many little life lessons I relearned on our trip.

One of the many highlights was an evening flight 800 feet above the game reserve in an ultralight aircraft, piloted by Colin, one of the guides. It gave yet another perspective of how massive the reserve is and how tiny we humans are against it all. As the sun was setting and we landed, I had a real sense of awe at how humans have been able to not only survive in that landscape, but become who and what we are today. It was a fabulous week for Carrie and me and we returned as relaxed, refreshed and inspired as we’ve been in years.

If any of you readers have ever considered going to Africa and doing it in style, I highly recommend checking out HillHouse and the Madikwe Reserve. It is truly a luxury Africa experience. The staff will treat you like family (except that they’ll see to your every need!) and you’re likely to see more game in less time than most other areas. The lodge can only handle 6-10 people at a time and only for ten weeks a year, so plan soon, if you do intend to go.

On an unrelated note, this post also marks the official announcement of the Mark’s Daily Apple Resource page and our title sponsor Vibram. If you get a chance, check out the video I did explaining why I do the minimalist shoe/barefoot thing. As many of you know, I’ve been a huge proponent of FiveFingers for years. Now we’re joining forces to help spread the word.

Also on the Primal Resource page you’ll find my favorite books, movies, blogs and retailers related to the Primal lifestyle. I’ll be updating the page on a regular basis with new books, websites and other tools and products that may be of interest to you, so check back often.

Thanks for reading, everyone, and let me know what you think in the comment board!

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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79 thoughts on “What I Did Over Spring Break”

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  1. I am originally from South Africa and this is making me a little homesick. Mark, I see that you have the same problem trying to put into words what it’s like being ‘Grok-distance’ from nature. Had any koedoe biltong? (kudu jerky) Beats the stuff we can get here hands-down!

    1. oh man I had biltong once ages ago when I was in the UK (a friend flew in frm SA while I was there). My mouth still waters at the 20yr old memory 🙂

    2. Yeah, how disappointed was I to not be able to bring any home!

    3. Every year we have a meat fest and every year we try to outdo what we did the previous meat fest. Last year, I brought some homemade biltong based on a recipe I got from a chef in Taos, NM. It was a huge hit! You just can’t beat the almost creamy texture of the inside of the beef.

  2. Good news on MDA teaming up with Vibram as I love both!

    Glad to hear your experience in the bush of South Africa was better than my experience in Brazil’s Pantanal (the southern part of the Amazon). Besides the highlights of fishing for piranhas and seeing breathtaking sunsets and sunrises in the wild, I will remember that trip for the legions of mosquitoes that had their way with me (>_<)

    1. You just have to know where in Brazil to visit! I used to live by Rio das Velhas, and it was splendid.

  3. Mark, sounds like you had great fun over your spring break. The photo of the lion is awesome.

    For the Vibram fingers, what does one do when they live in the great North?

  4. Wait a minute Mark… You said there were no tarred roads? Then how were there herds of chevy impala’s and mercury sable’s driving around? 😉

    I have a pair of Vibrams, and I love them when I go out boating or the beach, but when it’s business time, or if I don’t feel like being the odd man out, I’ll wear my Vivo barefoot shoes. They make a few mock dress shoes, which is great because I cannot stand being in regular shoes anymore. Good to see you are spreading the word of barefoot with Vibram. It was one of the best decesion’s I ever made.

    Seriously, that cat looks like it’s in heaven. That’s how I feast after a fasted workout. In fact, I have a new recipe for carb refeed days on my website. Potato Starch Buttermilk Pancakes. They are as delicious as they sound.

    1. When do you do carb refeed days and how often. Ive been primal for 3 months and definutely do fasted workouts to get my GH up there but i have read about post workout carb loading and was wondering what your regmune is for that.. ie how much, how often, and what types if carbs foods are you using? Any thoughts would be great! Thanks Joe

  5. Africa is a truly beautiful country. Friend cycled recently from south coast of Uk down to the Gambia. He blogged about the material poverty and widespread happiness in contrast to industrialized world. He camped and was looked after by random hospitable folks.

    Stunned at price of Hillhouse, £360 per night, requiring six people to pay this rate? Or have I miscalculated?

    1. Geoff, as I said, this is the highest end Africa experience I know of. It is not a budget vacation and certainly not for everyone. It includes all gourmet meals, rooms on a par with Aman resorts, a rare (and gorgeous) swimming pool, a schedule that you set to your liking, multiple experiences like the ultralight you will not get anywhere else, etc. etc. And having said that, it’s still cheaper than any London hotel I have stayed in 😉

      1. It’s the sorta place where locals don’t go to on vacation much. But you certainly get what you pay for, probably even more than you pay for.

        The local public game reserves are really huge and you rarely get to see any of the big game because of the distances involved. Especially not lions, where a whole game reserve might have less than a few dozen lions.

        Places like this can almost guarantee you’ll see something, which is good if you can only go once in a while, or once in your life.

        But there are other much cheaper options like this place https://www.tala.co.za/ which is an hour from Durban on the East Coast of South Africa. You can go there as a day trip and take a picnic lunch if you’re really budgeting. No lions, but quite a lot of rhino, giraffes and other animals in a fairly small area.

        A non-South-African friend of mine went on a two week bushwhacking where they stayed in tents in the bush, and where they were warned that if they stepped out of the light of the campfire at night they might get eaten. She said it was awesome. Even though it was a little scary.

      2. Gotcha! With a little research you can find good accomodation in London for £75 a night. But we dont have anything like S A. Biltong by South Afrikaans is good but I m sure better in their homeland.

      1. it is in america. it’s that country where everyone is poor but happy and wild animals roam the streets.

      2. Sure its a continent. I meant South Africa. I have friends from a dozen African states. The diversity is stunning.

    1. Allison, like I said, that’s how I roll. That’s Carrie next to me and our dear friend Karen next to her. Both were at PrimalCon for all of you who missed it this year.

  6. That’s awesome that you took a 10 day trip to South Africa. It is definitely something I’ll do in my lifetime. That picture of the Lion is stunning. 10 feet?! Really?! Too awesome.

    Vibram and Primal Blueprint = Great team!

    1. I have the same question. I have heard of people being killed by lions this way. My guess is someone had a rifle ready in the car. Or that an experienced guide knew the lions were gorged and not interested in added live meat that would be on the salty side 😉

  7. Holy cheesemonkies, I hadnt heard about those Bormios before but I emailed Vibram *before I even finished reading the article* asking if they have plans to make it available in women’s sizes yet. Mark please encourage them to get on that! I’ve been a huge customer of them for years but I’m sure your opinion would help pull weight faster ;D

    1. I agree. I would love a pair of Bormio’s. I’ve spoken with some of the kind folks at Vibram Five Fingers and it sounds like they’re having a tough time in the women’s market. Not enough women are buying toe shoes, and especially for casual wear. I get a TON of compliments on my Trek KSOs and Speeds, so hopefully VFF will start getting the women’s sales that will allow them to offer the same shoes for men as for women.

      1. Heartbroken they don’t make Bormio in women’s sizes. Heartbroken.

      2. I would wear Bormios, too! … one suggestion: I would LOVE it if Vibram made a version of Bormios for women that had leather fringe hanging from the top–it would fall about 5-6inches to hit just at the bottom of the ankle (like a pair of moccasins I used to have). Gray, fringed, leather … adorable. Just a thought, Vibram. Just a thought.

      3. Gah, thats terrible to hear! I mean, I can see why; we women are so over-sensitized to making sure we have the “cutest” shoes possible. I admit, sometimes even I am saddened by the fact that my vibrams just dont look very good with some outfits. But for me, proper posture, mobility, and strength is far more important than fashion (and i LOVE fashion, which says how important those things are) and oh hey it just so happens that focusing on those things makes the REST of my body look great.

        But ive been finding that many women do not hold their priorities the same way. I know of one woman who is my age (late 20s) and is already having serious knee and back problems from almost an entire lifetime of exclusively wearing heeled shoes, but shes still not giving them up.

        1. Fringe will not impair functionality. I don’t mind if you do not share in my dream of fabulous Bormios but it would be nice if you did not assume you understand my character. My priorities about health are not superseded by my sense of fashion.

          Seriously, Vibram, these would be awesome!

    2. I did the exact same thing! Right when I got to the part about the Bormios I went to the site to check out the women’s….they really need to make them available–I’d be willing to pay a little more if they were a limited edition!!

      1. Lol! Send them a note too, let them know theres a huge market here just waiting to be tapped ;D

    3. LADIES, I just had an amazing thought: Men’s sizes are usually a little bit wider in the toes and in the width of the foot, but ***WHAT IF*** we got mens sizes and then wore TOE SOCKS to fill in a little bit of that extra space? That would also solve the problem of not being able to easily wash the kangaroo leather!

      Id want to try it out in an actual store, though, rather than ordering a pair through the website. I shall keep my eye out!

  8. Went to Kenya in January. Cannot wait to go back. Africa is a truly magical place.

  9. Seems like an awesome trip. Would be nice to see some more pictures!

    For the resources page, might want to add myfitnesspal.com and fitocracy.com I find that they’re best for diet and exercise tracking respectively.

    1. Always on the lookout for good websites and I did join fitocracy, but am sad they do not yet have an Android app. It seems to work well online, however. Thanks!

  10. Mark,

    Congrats on your experience…

    I’ve been dying to nix my traditional hiking boots. Question: How do you feel the Bormios would hold up as a total replacement, provided one didn’t need the stiff toe protection of a traditional boot? Cold/snow? If I kept them pretty mink oiled up, would they be fairly waterproof?

  11. Glad you enjoyed my home country so much – I can absolutely recommend a visit to other parts of South Africa as well.

  12. What a truly amazing trip. Thank you for bringing your readers along. We love what you do Mark. Everyday you make contributions to people that change lives on levels that are uniquely profound.

  13. So good to see Mark going to South Africa and tasting the awesome food…(i miss home – 20 years in Canada now) and we still seek our Biltong (dried strips of seasoned meat)…yay!

  14. When I was in my early 20’s, one of my goals was to go to Africa on a photo safari. For some reason (excuse) or other, I never did it. Your article has renewed this desire. I’m going to start planning this trip TODAY. It may take me awhile to save up the money, but I will make it happen. I think I may literally forget to breathe if I come that close to an elephant, but that’s a chance I am willing to take! Thanks, Mark!

  15. A magical story, thank you.

    As others have mentioned, I love the lion picture… savoring her meal with eyes closed. 🙂

  16. Amazing! I am going on an 11 day safari to Uganda this summer. Glad to hear staying Primal wasn’t too tough!

  17. I’ve been wondering about the Vibram Bormio’s…and really want a pair… they seemed to be looser than the other Vibram’s…I have a pair of KomodoSport’s and love them… just wanted to know if the Bromio feel tight on your feet or if they are a little looser?

  18. That sounds like an amazing trip! I used to live in Kenya, and as a child we went on a safari every year. I probably didn’t appreciate it enough then, which is why I’d love to go back and do it again.

  19. What a trip that must have been!! I hope you’ll be able to post a few more pictures for us.

  20. Hi Mark. I am a primal lifestyle fanatic in South Africa. Wish I could have met you while you were out here. Just wondered if you were able to sample the worlds best biltong (jerky)? Both game and beef. If ever you are interested in giving a symposium on your work and the primal lifestyle in South Africa, please feel free to contact me! There is already a growing primal community here in Africa, the Cradle of Humankind. Regards, Alan Havenga.

  21. Great post, Mark. I went to South Africa two years ago on a humanitarian relief effort to assist those in the poorest areas of the country. It was remarkable to see how individuals could be so happy in what we would consider absolute poverty. The sites, such as Table Mountain and Robben Island (where Mandela spent his prison sentence), left me in awe. More than anything, however, I will always remember the people I encountered and the friendships I created.

  22. I don’t think I will ever get to Africa but I loved hearing about your trip. Sounded great!

  23. Mark – my homeland! glad to see that you enjoyed yourself and had a great experience. I wish more people would visit and see what a beautiful place it is…and yes, Africa does get into your blood – I’ve been away for 10 years and still miss the smells and sounds. Grok would love it too.

  24. Wow! Sounds like you had an amazing time! Very neat to hear about the partnership with VFFs and the resource page!

  25. Nothing like sleeping in a tent and listening to lions somewhere outside to give you an authentic primal experience!

  26. Hmmm, lion + tent, not on any list I remember. I spent a month or so in Somalia in ’81, but wasn’t able to do any sightseeing due to the drought and unrest. A safari sounds wonderful, though.

    1. K.A.P.S!! I like it!

      Friend: Hey man, I heard you’re going out of town for a couple weeks. Where ya going?

      Primal guy: I’m going on a KAPS, bro. Yeah. That’s right. I said KAPS… so you know it’s on.

      Friend: Lucky!!

  27. Awesome! Thanks for sharing this special trip with us.. and THANK YOU for primal resources!! LOVE VIRBAM and PRIMAL!!

  28. The trip looks awesome!

    The Vibrams partnership is cool, but can we have an MDA blog post on how to keep them from smelling as bad as mine? :o)

  29. Sounded fabulous!

    I am getting ready to buy my first pair of Vibrams. Turns out our favorite store (which also sponsors a race I volunteer for) carries them. Went up north to my small hometown in Wisconsin (470 people on a full day) and would you believe the dude in front of me for the Easter service at our little church was in Vibrams?! My family is going strong since discovering Primal Blueprint (they can’t help it as I order it and send it to them unawares). Brother who cooks/manages mom’s restaurant is a walking add. Losing his wheat belly (no more shelf to rest stuff on) and his fasting blood sugar is down from 160 to 103. GO PRIMAL!

  30. Now it makes sense – listened to your Abel James podcast while getting a root canal today and he asked you how your trip to Africa was. Oh, and thanks for your site leading me to GRAVATAR. Awesome!!!

  31. Congratulations Mark. Your photos bring back the sounds and smells of Africa to me. I’ve been to the Madikwe area a number of times, and Southern Africa many times. Next time, be sure to jump over the boarder to Botswana. The people and country is beautiful. It certainly does get under your skin… and into your heart.

  32. All I have to say is…soooooo jealous!! 🙂 What an awesome experience!

  33. Mark, you come all this way and you do not even pop in to say hi. 😀 Glad you had a good time.
    Cape Town

  34. Nice trip Mark, I’m also a South African. I live in the urban jungle that is Johannesburg, but I have recently taken a trip up to the Hoedspruit area near the western border of the Kruger National Park. The place we stayed at is called Baobab Ridge, it looks to be a similar vibe to HillHouse. Self-catering for the msot part, though there is one hell of a kitchen ripe for some epic grok feasts.

    I am proudly South African and I love this country, it’s just our idiot government that needs a wake up!

  35. Mark – I am from Botswana. I lived in both Zimbabwe and Botswana for the first 20 years of my life. The bush, air, food, and people get under your skin and even though I have lived the last 10 odd years in Cyprus, Botswana will always be my home. P.S. You’ve not tasted meat until you’ve been to Africa.

  36. Mark so glad to hear you loved my country. Just wish you could’ve done a seminar or even a little talk. I also live in Johannesburg and have had the privilege of traveling to the Kruger national park since I was a little girl, which is awesome. I have also been to madikwe – amazing. This weekend I am lucky enough to be going to another private game reserve called Welgevonden which has lodges which are similar to madikwe lodges.

    Come back soon. There is so much more to see in this beautiful country.

  37. Hi Mark

    Next time you come back to our part of the world, how about doing some work as well. Would love to attend one of you seminars.


  38. You ain’t seen nothing yet Mark, welcome and thank you for writing about SA. Please invite your fellow citizens to visit SA, we have lots and lots more in wildlife to offer.


  39. for a cheaper wild option, try an hike in the Kruger National Park, less than $500 for three days including tents and meals..
    Typically you don’t see as much on these hikes as from a car, since the animals are habituated to cars but people on foot are usually refugees and hence predators.. still it’s a great experience, nothing quite like lying in your fenced camp listening to the lions cough in the night..

  40. I thought for a few days before leaving this comment. I mean it constructively. I love Vibrams (have 2 pairs, and would be tempted by the Bormios, if they were in women’s sizes); I also like Vivo Barefoot (have 8 or so pairs – they have a Mary Jane style that works for all but the most formal of business settings for women, and I tend to wear these or Vivo trainers [sneakers] on most days). The pairing of MDA and VFF is a logical one, and one that (I hope) is a commercial transaction that brings some revenue to the MDA business.

    One thing I like about the site now is that it is not ‘noisy’ with lots of adverts flashing about losing belly fat or removing face wrinkles, etc. or pushing blenders, banks and other related or unrelated stuff. The sidebar showing MDA products is not obtrusive.

    So this comment is a plea to keep the MDA a nice, clean site with excellent content – as it currently is – and not one that plugs all kind of third-party merchandise. VFF, great product (but hopefully not invitation to the slippery slope…) I do want Mark to earn a decent living, so it isn’t selling things (like supplements, and books) per se.

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