What is the best way to share a passion for the mountains, for climbing, hiking and winter sports? You buy an old city bus, restore it and convert it into a mobile hotel in which like-minded adventurers can travel throughout South America together. This is exactly what Manu Fombeur did in the Argentinian city of Bariloche. Here, the Frenchman converted a Mercedes-Benz L 911 into a camper van with everything it could need: the luxurious camper van offers guests a bathroom, kitchen, beds for five people, a mini-cinema and even a fireplace. This is the story of Manu Fombeur and “La Chanchita”.
MYVAN: What inspired you to convert an old L 911 into a camper van?
Manu Fombeur: At the time, I was on a long skiing trip in South America and had stopped in Bariloche. I had been travelling there for more than 10 years to go skiing. I immediately saw the old Mercedes-Benz bus. And I noticed the license plate, in particular: it said “SKI”. I immediately knew that this had to be a sign!
MYVAN: What do you mean?
Manu Fombeur: I am a passionate free skier and I knew right away that I had to do something with the bus. To put it better: I could make my dream come true and create a mobile hotel for extreme and winter sports enthusiasts. Unfortunately, I could not afford the vehicle on my own so I contacted a number of sponsors. They were immediately enthusiastic about my idea. I purchased the vehicle and began to restore it. One and a half years later, the L 911 had become “La Chanchita”.
MYVAN: What is your vision for the camper van?
Manu Fombeur: South America offers an endless range of opportunities for extreme athletes, adventurers, photographers, film-makers and outdoor enthusiasts. Yet most of the locations and skiing regions, such as those in the Andes, are difficult to reach. Unlike in Europe or North America, the tourism infrastructure is often almost non-existent. That is why a camper van offers autonomy, mobility and freedom. It is the right choice for everyone headed out into the wilderness and who wants to visit the tourist attractions. Regardless of whether climbing, surfing, skiing, hiking, kayaking, cycling or skateboarding: “La Chanchita” makes it happen.
Then I came along and gave it a new, third life: as a camper van.
MYVAN: What do you know about your L 911?
Manu Fombeur: The Mercedes-Benz bus was built in 1966. It was once used as a city and school bus in Buenos Aires. Then it was converted into a freight transporter and was primarily used in Patagonia. Then I came along and gave it a new, third life: as a camper van
MYVAN: Do you live in this camper van yourself?
Manu Fombeur: No, I am the bus driver. This means that I drive my guests throughout South America and take them to places that they would never have visited on their own.
MYVAN: Can you describe a normal tour with the L 911? What is it like?
Manu Fombeur: Every trip is different. There is no fixed plan. People contact me, we work out a rough route together and then we head out. But the route usually changes during the actual journey. We often decide where to drive next day by day. This is the way things are in South America!
MYVAN: Can you tell us three unforgettable moments that you have experienced on your travels through South America?
Manu Fombeur: The Lanin volcano in Argentina on the border to Chile is breathtaking. Patagonia’s seven lake route in the north of Argentina is also something you have to see. El Bolson on the Perito-Moreno glacier is an amazing ski area and is also in Patagonia. One time when I was there, more than one meter of new snow fell within 48 hours.