The Sheltering Desert
“Forty years have passed since I, my friend Hermann and dog Otto sought the shelter of the desert in order to escape internment during the Second World War.” Thus begins Henno Martin’s extraordinary tale of survival in as harsh an environment as any human could live in. “The Sheltering Desert” is an autobiographical account of the two and a half years the German geologists’ spent in the badlands of the Kuiseb.
Image above: Resting our horses under a tree Henno Martin, Hermann Korn and the dog Otto might have sat under so many years ago. Kuiseb Canyon, Namib Desert
This moving tale of indescribable physical and metal hardship, of the struggle to survive this unforgiving desert, and the ever present threat of detection.
Image right: The sheltering 'cave' they found in the calcrete crust of the Kuiseb Canyon
“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 physiologist Carl Jung - that we do not understand the depth of our own innate nature, how then can we hope to live in harmony when we have forgotten what we are or what our purpose here is. Henno Martin, for one, seems to have come close to discovering that purpose.
These were the questions which stirred insights lying 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.
Image left: On the edge of the Kuiseb Canyon, Andrew takes a breather after climbing up the steep side of the Canyon
Yet 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 man’s instinctual roots and the demands that ‘modern society’ places upon the individual. That blaming the evils of the world on the social structures only leads to more conflict - that it is up to us to recognise that the struggle has to be waged within ourselves. A struggle seemingly against those innate tendencies which appear counter to the social conditioning we seem required to uphold. How did we become so alienated? This is still a valid question today...
This beguiling little book has many thought-provoking insights into our own nature. Really one of those must reads, especially for those who have, or who are about to embark on a Namib Desert Safari which passes within a hair’s breadth of the cave Hermann and Henno used on the edge of this enigmatic desert we have come to love.
Copies in both English and German are available on Amazon (ISBN 978-3-936463-03-5)