“Forty years have passed since I, my friend Hermann and the dog Otto sought the shelter of the desert in order to escape the madness of the Second World War.” Thus begins an extraordinary tale of survival in as harsh an environment as any human could live. “The Sheltering Desert” written by German geologist Henno Martin is an autobiographical account of the two and a half years during the war when he, his friend Hermann Korn, and the dog Otto hid in the badlands of the Kuiseb to escape interment.
It is a moving tale of indescribable physical and mental hardship, of the struggle to survive this unforgiving desert and the ever present threat of detection.
Image right: Namib Desert Safari route through the Kuiseb Canyon - arrow indicating the "Sheltering Desert" cave.
They found more than just shelter in this desert – they found the thrill of sheer survival and confrontation with the most primitive traits of their own human nature. They came to recognise the glaring discrepancy that exists between our instinctual roots and the demands that so-called modern society places on us. That blaming the evils of the world on the social structures only leads to more conflict - and so it is up to us to recognise that the struggle has to be waged within ourselves. A struggle against those innate tendencies which seem counter to the social conditioning forced upon us by society.
Image above of the "Sheltering Desert" cave above the Kuiseb
“For me the most important gain of our life in the Namib was the experience that the human mind can rise above even the most savage conditions.” These words could have, might have, been spoken by the redoubtable phycologist Carl Jung – that we do not understand our own innate nature, how then can we hope to live in harmony when we have forgotten what we are or what our purpose is.
Image left: resting under a tree Henno Martin, Hermann Korn and the dog Otto might have sat under so many year ago.
These were the questions which stirred them into realisations which lie beyond thought, beyond mere assumptions and mechanistic interpretations which assume that living beings are mere complicated physio-chemical happenings. Scientists in their own right, they began to realise the hard edge of human understanding – how incredible performances by living creatures cannot ‘adequately’ be explained by chemical and physical reactions operating within the laws of physics. Somehow their day to day lives on the edge of the desert proved to them again and again the fundamental flaws in our understanding of living things
This beguiling little book has many thought-provoking insights into our own nature. A must read, especially for those who have, or who are about to embark on a Namib Desert riding safari which passes but a hair’s breadth from Henno and Hermann’s cave on the edge of this enigmatic desert we have come to love.
Image right: Decent into the Kuiseb on foot, Namib Desert Safari
Copies in both English and German are available from us, or from Amazon.com (ISBN 978-3-936463-03-5)