In NomadMania a count of 20 UN countries does not usually provoke surprise or admiration … but when this is the count of a 22-year old Iranian woman travelling solo for the past 30+ months, then this is a whole different story. Finding her dream after an encounter with Rumi, Melika Bokaie shares a little of her path with us today…
Leaving Tehran, December 2017
Melika, tell us a little about yourself.
I was born and raised in Tehran, Iran. I studied theatre at high school and worked as an actress, make-up artist and director’s assistant in different plays and with different groups in Tehran. I truly enjoy dancing salsa and bachata and want to become a professional dancer in the future.
I have been working with children since I was 14. I teach English and Art to 3-6/6-12 year olds. I have been traveling and volunteering around Latin America for the last 2.5 years.
Following Rumi in Konya
What exactly is the connection between your travels and Rumi?
Well, on my 19th birthday I got a present from a close friend, which was a book about Rumi and Shams. I was so inspired that it made me want to travel to Konya and visit his tomb.
Three months later, in March 2017, I went to Turkey for a week to visit Rumi’s tomb, it was my first time traveling alone and my passion for traveling started from there.
How does being an Iranian affect your life as a traveler?
As an Iranian traveling with an Iranian passport I need a visa for almost every country in the world. As a full-time traveler I really can’t plan ahead of time and be sure of my next destinations. It takes lots of time, energy and money to be able to visit a country and that’s why you don’t see so many Iranian passport holders traveling worldwide. On the other hand, people are always so interested in hosting me because I’m from Iran. They don’t see so many Iranians and are eager to learn more about our culture.
Rainbow Mountain, Peru
What are some places in your country that you would consider hidden gems and would recommend people to visit when they travel to Iran?
I haven’t really traveled inside Iran yet so there are so many hidden gems that I don’t know of, but for now I definitely recommend visiting Hormoz Island, Alam Kuh, Mount Damavand and Shiraz.
Ecuador, on the way to Quilotoa
Finding someone from Iran, especially at your age, with such traveling experience is not that common. Tell us how it all happened and why Latin America?
Four months after my first trip to Turkey, I went to Nepal for two weeks for a 10-day Vipassana Meditation. After the course I got to know a German girl who was my age and was traveling and volunteering around South East Asia for a year. I asked her a lot of questions about traveling on a budget and volunteering and when I went back home to Iran all I was thinking was a one-year journey to South America.
I have always been interested in Latin American dances, especially Salsa and when I looked at the map the only place that was calling me was South America. I wanted to learn Spanish, improve my Salsa, live with locals and volunteer in different parts of South America. I was independent so I started saving money (It was easy to save money back then as it was before the international sanctions). I sold my piano and bought a ticket from Turkey to Venezuela. And my first two destinations were Venezuela and Ecuador as I didn’t need a visa to visit them. I left Iran 2 days before my 20th birthday, went to visit Rumi in Konya again and then flew to South America from Istanbul.
I had no idea how long I would be able to continue this journey. I only had 1500$ and I didn’t even speak a word of Spanish.
Rumi says: As you start to walk on the way, the way appears..
And he was right. As I started to walk and knock on the door, continents, countries and people opened their doors to me, After 6 months I found an online job as a travel planner and I was able to make enough money to travel and volunteer in different countries and the impossible became possible.
Ometepe island, Nicaragua
How did your family and friends in Iran react when you first told them you want to travel solo and what do they think about your experience now?
For a long time my mum thought I was joking about going to South America. They were all afraid, trying to convince me it’s not a wise decision and I should start from somewhere close. Even though some family members disagreed and told me I would return home crying in a few weeks, they are all so proud and supportive and want me to continue as long as I can and want.
You mentioned your purpose of traveling is personal growth. Have you changed as a person as a result of your travels?
Definitely. I became a good listener, more patient and I have learned so many new skills.
Do you have your own blog or website?
People in Iran need to hear more stories about people around the world. So I tell stories and write articles about my experiences and the people I meet. My goal is to show people there are so many ways to live and to show them what the national media in Iran doesn’t want to show.
This is my website: melliiic.com
I write in Persian though.
Arraial do Cabo, Brazil
The Coronavirus crisis has inevitably put a stop to travel for a while. Where have you spent the past months?
I arrived in Guatemala on March 13th. They closed the borders two days later. I have spent the last months in a small village called Jaibalito, by Lake Atitlan. I am house sitting and pet sitting here. Spending most of my time writing (I’m writing a book about this journey) doing yoga, swimming in the lake and cooking. My next destination would be Mexico, but I don’t see that happening anytime soon. I am enjoying this pause and not desperately waiting for the borders to re-open.
Machu Picchu, Peru
And finally our signature question – if you hosted a dinner and could invite four people, from any period in human history (assume they can still be alive!), who would you invite and why?
What an interesting question. I would say I would love to have dinner with Omar Khayyam, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Leonardo Dicaprio and Julie Andrews.
They have all taught me a lot and inspired me so much, so I would like to thank them in person!
Lake Atitlan, Guatemala, June 2020