Monday, July 16, 2012

The Sheltering Desert

The year is 1939 and two apolitical German geologists doing fieldwork in Southwest Africa have decided they want no part of the war that their homeland is inflicting on the rest of the world. They hurriedly pack their rusty old truck with camping gear, canned food and their loyal mutt, Otto, and head off into the inhospitable Namib Desert.

Twenty years later, one of those men, Henno Martin, recounted their 3-year struggle to survive. The Sheltering Desert is an understated gem of a book, a diamond in the rough.

An English language version was not published until 1970, and the translation is not the most polished. But in some ways, the oddly-rendered English adds to the book’s charm. More importantly, the two men’s na├»ve enthusiasm and audacious pluck shine through.

 The men quickly realize that day-to-day survival requires most of their waking hours. They spend whole days tracking, shooting and then chasing down the wounded animals. After the kill, the pair must often trek miles back to where they started, carrying a heavy carcass. Time in their makeshift camp is spent fetching water, skinning and preparing meat, and collecting a few scrubby plants they use to supplement their mostly animal-based diet. They enjoy what little free time they have in the evenings watching ants, hearing radio broadcasts of the news or discussing the outside world’s descent to insanity while listening to classical music.

Eventually, acute illness of one of the men forces them to return to civilization and they spend the remainder of the war in a British internment camp. But their extraordinary time living in the Namib makes for riveting reading. The book includes black and white photos the pair took during their adventure.

Sixty years later, an anonymous fan of The Sheltering Desert followed in their footsteps and published beautiful color photographs of the area on a blog, One Stoned Cow. The site makes a wonderful companion to an equally wonderful book.

You can reserve The Sheltering Desert here.


  1. Thanks for the link to One Stoned Crow! The photographs show exactly what Henno described. I loved this book.

  2. The original black and white pics are nice, but the blog color ones are really gorgeous. The blog site is hard to find for some reason and it took a while to rediscover it. It doesn't show up on google.


    the above link has MORE amazing photos of Namibia