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The Green Native: A Vintage Military Van Transformed into a Rolling Shangri La


Story by Julia Crawford. Photos by Shayd Johnson.

The van was cool but it was the owners, Neomi and Suzan, who we were totally captivated by. Two rad, adventurous, warm, approachable Dutch women on a journey with no end date and no final destination. Kind of like any other van-lifer, except there’s is one of the most unique and meticulously customized vans we’ve ever seen: A converted 1985 Mercedes German Army ambulance, standard issue green with European license plates.

It was impossible to miss. Driving past, we nearly struck oncoming traffic as we hung our heads out the window to take a better look. Some might say it was a chance passing but Shayd seems to have a radar for spotting the most beautiful adventure mobiles, and connecting with their rad (and often eccentric) owners.


We pulled over a block later and hopped out. Luckily, Neomi and Suzan are the kind of people who, if you knock a few times, might invite you in for a vegan Caesar (the Canuck name for a Bloody Marry) and a tour.

Originally from Holland, they shipped their Van to Halifax and have, so far, driven coast-to-coast in Canada. Shayd wanted to grab a few shots of Neomi, Suzan, and their cute dog, Puck, so we invited them to Spanish Banks. In Vancouver, Spanish Banks is the spot for van lifers. Located on the outskirts of the city, the park features a row of large parking lots that overlook the beach. The free parking and good views attract itinerant adventurers passing through the city. Over the past year we’ve met some fantastic characters who called these lots homes.

Neomi and Suzan met a few years ago. At the time Suzan was married, owned a house, and lived a life of routine and comfort. But in a dark nightclub in Amsterdam, a few Bloody Marrys deep, Neomi locked eyes with Suzan and it was – quite literally – love at first sight. Pretty soon after they got married and gave up their lives to pursue their dream of nomadic travel.

They purchased the ambulance off the European version of Craigslist and made some of the nicest conversions we’ve ever seen—we’re talking vintage wood stove, custom mosaic wood work, copper sink, observation deck on the roof.

To keep the adventure going they work while on the road. Suzan is a psychologist and Skypes with her clients while abroad. Neomi is a former police officer turned vegan chef. In every location they travel to she plans to do a vegan take on a classic, local dish. Which is how we ended up sipping on vegan Caesars topped with a plant-based sliders. Her project is called the “Green Native” (also the name of their van).

 They’re headed south to Argentina next. If you’re lucky, you might just catch them slinging vegan versions of South American cuisine, or most likely, being the envy of all other van lifers who cross paths with them.

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