In the early 1950’s a Dutch couple, Willem and Truus van der Mark followed their forefather’s footsteps and decided to elope to South Africa. This choice was primarily made on the fact that the couple both loved animals and that Willem’s talent as a documentarian would be taken to new heights, as he could capture wildlife on his 16 mm camera. Back in those days when television was unheard of, news clips appeared during movie intervals at the cinema. It was during such movie intervals that Willem‘s documentaries were screened.
The van der Mark couple dreamt of one day showing all their friends back home what Africa had to offer. In 1956 they decided to get the wheels and reels rolling as they did their first overland African trip in a Studebaker. They soon realized what their limitations were while driving the Studebaker, and decided that they will need a vehicle that was not only more reliable, but also had more height to improve visibility in the “African jungle”.
Once back in South Africa the search was on and they fell in love with a 1959 VW Samba Kombi. The Samba bus could satisfy all their needs. Originally made for Swiss Alps sightseeing, this luxury bus sported 23 windows, a sunroof and a lot more space, not to mention the fact that it was probably the most reliable vehicle on the market. The van der Mark couple proudly drove their new Samba bus out of Capital Motors’ doors in Pretoria on the 11th of April 1959.
With adventure in their blood, there was nothing more to do than to prepare for the next road trip. The first improvement that was made for the long road ahead was to take the back seats out and refurbish it with all the luxuries of a small house on wheels. Next was a banner that was mounted just above the safari windows, proudly stating the words “Pan Africa Safari”. All packed and ready to go, the van der Mark couple left South Africa on 15 February 1960 for their Pan Africa Safari. What makes this story so unique is the fact that Willem caught the whole experience on his 16 mm camera. The footage shows Africa in its raw form. Everything from wildlife to tribal rituals can be seen, while Mrs. Truus van der Mark features quite often in this film, with a broad smile on her face. One can see that she was in heaven amongst her two special loves; her husband and animals. The trip took them up the East coast of Africa, where they finally cut across Central Africa (Congo), before crossing the Sahara desert and eventually exiting through Morocco into Europe.
The Samba’s journey did not end here. With 3 months on the road and 21 000 km covered, they shared their experiences with family and friends in their country of birth before shipping the bus over to North America. There they travelled from the East coast to the West coast and back again and then once more returned to Europe. Although this part of the journey only remains in newspaper clippings it was none the less a significant part of this phenomenal journey. Mr. and Mrs. van der Mark returned to South Africa by ship with their beloved Samba bus.
Willem van der Mark sadly passed away at an early age and left his wife with the two things they treasured most: the Samba bus and a lifetime of memories. The 1959 Samba bus became Mrs. Truus van der Mark’s lifeline. She just couldn’t part ways with such an important piece of her life’s history. This however didn’t mean that life stopped here. She would often gather a group of friends together and leading by example, she would take them on safaris to the Kruger National Park. Her “naughty blue eyes”, as she called it, were always full of life. She continued being passionate about animals and could be seen every Saturday at the morning market, collecting money for the SPCA. And yes -you guessed it – the Samba bus was never far away.
Mrs. Truus van der Mark always lived life to the fullest. She was active and a great example to all who knew her, as she made every second count. She joined her husband in the afterlife one Saturday morning in May 2008, doing what she loved. While collecting money for abused animals on behalf of the SPCA, she suddenly suffered a stroke and was rushed to the hospital, where she passed away.
The Samba bus is currently owned by Jean and Leana Viljoen from Paarl in the Western Cape. They too have a unique part in this amazing story. Back in 2006 Jean got a call from a friend who spotted a Samba bus driving around Pretoria. His friend decided to follow this eye catching bus and eventually ended up having a conversation with this older lady. In all the excitement he had forgotten to ask the lady for her contact details, but recalled her saying that she lived in a suburb called Equestria. Jean was so intrigued by this rare beauty and being a passionate air cooled family member, he decided to fly up to Pretoria the following weekend and search for the Samba bus, driven by an older lady. This was not going to be an easy task, but as it turned out the result was priceless. Not only did he and his wife find the Samba lady, but they also discovered the car’s rich history. Jean and Leana returned home empty handed in one way, but enriched in another. They had made a new friend, as Mrs. Truus van der Mark was an inspiration to anyone that met her. They kept in contact over the next two years, occasionally visiting Mrs. Truus. There was never a dull moment when it came to this special lady. There was always a story to be told and life lessons to be learned. Jean and Leana knew what this Samba bus meant to her and also knew that it was her lifeline that connected her to her soul mate.
So it came as a huge surprise when Jean got a call in 2008 and was told the news of Mrs. van der Mark death. Mrs van der Mark stated in her will that Jean and Leana should have a first option to purchase the Samba from her deceased estate. The bus needed a good home and it found it. Thanks to the Viljoen family the history of this bus is not only being preserved, but its legacy lives on.
Willem and Truus van der Mark, I salute you.
Article by Wernher Hartzenberg
Photos by courtesy of Jean Viljoen (Copyright)
Criss-cross through Africa.
Lunch time. Looks like a good spot for a picnic.
One of many border crossings.
Insignificant challenge, crossing the Sahara.
Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s super Samba.
Goodbye Africa, Hello Europe.
Jean Viljoen meeting the Samba lady A.K.A Mrs. Truus van der Mark
Mrs. Truus enjoying life till the end.
The treasure box filled with a lifetime of history and experiences.
The Samba’s back seats were kept in storage for half a century. Still looking as good as new.