July 8, 2014
Much was made of the death of the VW Kombi last year, when the last van rolled off a Brazilian factory floor after more than 60 years of continuous production.
But there are still places where this icon of world travel can be found, spluttering and stuttering along the dusty paths of adventure.
A small tour company in Uganda has discovered a few Kombis rusting away, abandoned by their owners in dusty corners of the country, and is putting them to use as hardy servants of travelers seeking alternate means of travel.
In 2009, Steven Cresswell and William Boase toured Uganda from the UK on a motorcycle and saw several deserted Kombi vans along their way.
A year later they returned, bought and revived one of these relics, named it “Piglet,” and founded Kombi Nation Tours.
Piglet, a 37-year-old red Kombi van, was first registered as an ambulance in the northwest of Uganda.
“She’d been last used as a matatu (bus/taxi),” says Rachel Landman, director of Kombi Nation Tours.
“Though when we found her, she was being used as a storage for car parts with the words ‘Please Enjoy Me Again’ painted on the back window.”
The company quickly found two more camper vans, namely Beatrice (Betty) — formerly an ambulance — and The Dude, formerly a chicken hutch.
Many of the Kombis were used as taxis and minibuses until they become difficult to maintain.
“VW Kombi are no longer common in Uganda,” says Landman. “They ceased to be used as taxis and buses in 2000.