About 1.5 years ago, twins Jolisa and Saskia van Leeuwen (29), started a great adventure with Lisa de Bree (28) and Eileen Helfferich (25). Due to the corona virus, they were all virtually out of work. They bought an English double-decker from 1976 with the dream of turning it into a motorhome with a spare room. Not hindered by their lack of technical knowledge, they got to work. And with success! The ladies’ perseverance paid off: 'La Karavana' is out and about and has already provided its first guests with a warm bed and a shower during various adventurous trips.
Saskia and Jolisa are identical twins. They work in the event industry and Jolisa also works as a tour guide. They met Lisa through a pop-up event and Eileen was a colleague in the organization of the Down The Rabbit Hole festival. The oldest of the bunch, the double-decker itself, ran as line 847 between Barnsley and Doncaster in Yorkshire in the 1970s and 1980s. Its maximum weight is 16 000 kilograms and the engine that pulls this weight is a six-cylinder Gardner inline engine In 2000 it exchanged the left lane for the right one and was brought to the Netherlands to be used as a wedding location. Twenty years later, the four ladies are the proud owners of 'La Karavana'.
Jolisa: “If we would ever be able to do it, it was now. Summers are normally full of projects, events and trips abroad, but everything was cancelled. We already had a similar plan, but corona was the deciding factor.” Each team member was expected to work on the bus at least three days a week, until it would be finished, to bring a financial contribution and, after the renovation, to accompany a number of trips a year.
Where Eileen, Jolisa and Saskia no longer had a job as a result of corona, Lisa herself decided to quit her job at a school. A leap into the deep end, which so far has turned out very well. They have no shortage of media interest and they have thousands of followers on Facebook and Instagram. They have also received help from friends, strangers and old acquaintances. Lisa: “Even people we hadn't had contact with for ten years suddenly appeared.” Jolisa: “Everyone thinks it is a very charming project. Some materials were sponsored or we received a discount. Most of the help came from volunteers, friends and family. We sometimes found it difficult to ask people again, but we noticed that they actually really enjoy helping. Because they have a different kind of job themselves, working out here feels like a very rich use of time.” In addition to sponsoring and help, hard work was also required to get the project started. They raised money through a crowdfunding campaign. People could adopt a piece of bus and that happened a lot from unexpected quarters. “Strangers donated because they thought it was such a beautiful dream or because they had never dared to do something like this themselves. Ultimately, this brought in 14 000 euros and 3000 euros in materials. During that entire period, we were amazed at every euro that was donated, because it’s our dream, our plan, our bus and then it’s so cool to see that so many people wanted to help and are enthusiastic.”
The bus on Dirk Molenaar’s property
A shed full of tools
And then there was farmer Dirk Molenaar. He heard about the project from his cousin, a friend of the ladies, and offered a spot on his land in Nieuw-Vennep where the bus could stay. Lisa: “Molenaar has a lot of knowledge, a shed full of equipment and tools that we were allowed to use, space and good advice.” He turned out to be full of energetic one-liners. “When you put on your wooden jacket later, you'll regret that you didn't do more than you did.” From his lawnmower, when the bus won't start: "Give it some time, he's not the youngest anymore." And looking over one shoulder: "That's a screwdriver, not a rotten wood remover."
Curious about the artwork on the outside? We'll tell you more about it at the bottom of this article!
Have they not encountered any challenges at all? Yes! As is often the case, the devil of this project was not in the big things, but in the small ones. “The insurance, for example,” says Jolisa, eyes rolling. “Nobody wants to insure you. There is only one insurer and he charges the grand price: 500 euros per month for the liability insurance alone. So if anyone knows anything else? We have searched everywhere, so the golden tip is very welcome. And we had to change from being a partnership to a foundation. Notary fees are involved, money that we would rather spend on the bus.” Inn terms of renovation, a lot of work has been done for a long time, in which the progress was not immediately visible. "So much has been done that you don't see: the leak that seemed to last forever – there was a puddle of water in the bus every day – or insulating the immense amount of square meters and installing the wiring." But with regard to the renovation, there is little frustration to be found. “For three strangers, I already knew my sister well, of course, we get along very well. We still like it and we learned a lot.”
The handymen also encountered prejudices. “When curious people came by, while male friends were also working, those people always walked over to the man with their questions. They still assume it's his bus. Or at the protest against corona measures by Unmute Us from the event industry, in which we participated. There, the organization asked where our driver was at the driver briefing.” All four have obtained their C driving license. And when that piece of paper came in the mail, the four of them drove to the beach as a test. “We didn't need anyone and there we were, with some music playing. We were proud and free; okay, we can do this together!” A few weeks later, on a trip to a motorhoming event in Antwerp, it turned out that there was still something to learn. “That was my first real drive and at one point we stopped. The bus was protesting. The new meter on the tank still showed that we had fuel, but the tank was empty anyways... Apparently it still had to be adjusted properly so we ran out of diesel. Stupid of course, but this has been fixed and the diesel is now on the checklist. Just behind us, someone who came from the same area as us also happened to be driving with cones in the trunk and he immediately helped.”
In the meantime, La Karavana has its first trips under its wheels. Because of corona, the ladies initially decided to stay in the Netherlands and organised twelve trips in as many provinces. Each trip with its own adventurous touch, such as climbing the highest climbing tower in the Netherlands in Groningen, sailing on a 120-year-old ship in Zeeland and a bushcraft workshop in Overijssel. The journey along the twelve provinces in the Netherlands has now been completed. Jolisa: “The first trips were really great. We were in beautiful places, with nice people. We let guests actively experience the Netherlands. And they are super happy. The atmosphere is really the way we wanted it. Cooking together, washing dishes together and exercising together.”
The start of traveling also means the end of the era at farmer Dirk in Nieuw-Vennep. He granted the handymen a place in his yard, including tips, tools and the space to start this project. “Doing odd jobs for a year and a half, five to six days a week. Very special that this was possible. I think he also regretted us leaving. He said that there has never been anyone who has finished anything in his yard in all those years. We are going to miss him.” And besides Molenaar, they will miss another important person: Lisa decided to stop, a major setback. “We started with the four of us and of course we also wanted to reach the finish with four of us. The entire project takes a lot of time and there is almost no profit for the time being. It is already difficult to calculate the costs. The three of us can plan our work well around the bus. It was more difficult for Lisa to combine it with her other work plans and she was worried and stressed.” And not reproachfully: “Maybe she had romanticized it a bit too. The door is always open for her and she has accompanied a few trips as well. But running the bus is now up to the three of us. And we are very much looking forward to that.”
La Karavana has been organizing trips in the Netherlands since August 2021 and will travel the wider world from June. The first trip outside the Netherlands will be to Norway. The focus is always on adventurous trips including kayaking, supping and hiking. There are nine beds that can be booked separately. The bus is also rented out to groups for organized trips or as accommodation in the low season. In winter, the bus is parked at camping Het Bos Roept in Slootdorp (website code 56578), Noord-Holland. The bus can then be rented as accommodation at this nature campsite.
Graffiti artist Tymon de Laat provided the artwork on the double decker. “What an awesome project! This is a dream come true.” La Karavana was given a paint job at the street art festival POW WOW. “I used to do cars, but this is the next level.” De Laat is a big fan of Latin America and North Africa and this is clearly visible in his work. He adds elements that tell a story. Like a Bedouin woman here, mountains in the background and the serrated edges of a postage stamp. The four did not know what the end result would be and were only allowed to choose the artist.
The interior of the bus can be viewed via La Karavana's Instagram account.