PETALING JAYA: It’s a fantasy many harbour at some point in life: “Why not I just quit my job and travel the world?”
But would you be willing to leave your family and friends behind? And trade the comfort and security of a well-paying job even if it was for a lifetime of travel? And most likely living on nothing but the contents of your backpack?
Well, this gutsy 44-year-old seasoned traveller did.
Working as a software engineer in a bank, Bijan M Baki wanted to live her carpe diem moment after years of frustration at not having the time or peace of mind to plan holidays because of the pressures of work.
Call it coincidence or fate, but Bijan began to see travel differently after meeting a long-term traveller, who inspired her to leave it all behind and see the world.
Speaking to FMT, Bijan says it was a tough decision to make. And it wasn’t easy either planning this next phase of her life.
She wanted to start her travels right – debt-free – so she went full throttle ahead, saving every ringgit she made. She was 32 at the time.
Even so, she wasn’t financially ready to quit her job at 35 as planned, so continued putting in the hours for another three years.
In August 2014, she left her cushy office job, grabbed her travel gear and bought a ticket to Mongolia.
From there, she explored Tibet, Nepal and turned her sights on Turkey, Greece, London and Ireland.
So hungry was she to see the world, she continued on to Italy, Switzerland and Spain, letting her natural compass guide her to Egypt, Peru, Bolivia, Argentina, Chile and finally into the deep and dense jungles of the Amazon.
She didn’t return to Malaysia until September 2016.
While overseas, Bijan decided to unleash her inner Indiana Jones and bought a Peruvian motorcycle in the last six months of her trip to enable her to ride to remote places. She named her bike ‘Sunshine’.
She tells FMT that she stayed in the Amazon jungles for one entire month in the city of Iquitos.
“Located in the middle of the Amazon jungle, Iquitos is the largest city in the Peruvian Amazon, home to some half a million people and inaccessible by road,” she says, adding the Amazon jungle is like the rainforests of Malaysia.
“But the animals here are either extremely huge or extremely tiny. I discovered an animal called the pygmy marmoset which is the size of a human thumb,” she says, still sounding incredulous about the encounter.
“There is no way one is able to survive in the Amazon jungle alone,” Bijan says.
Her stay in the Amazon jungle also led to some surprising new delicacies where she discovered her love for fried piranhas.
“I was fasting at the time and there was a lady selling rice, fried fish and corn. I found the fish to be extremely delicious and sweet tasting.
“I returned eagerly the next day to purchase it again and then to my shock, I saw its sharp teeth and the lady informed me it was a piranha. It’s not very expensive maybe around RM6,” she says, laughing heartily.
Once back in Malaysia, Bijan landed a new job and began saving for her next travel adventure. She even found the time to write a book, Vamos Sur America.
By June 2018, Bijan had packed her bags again, this time heading to Peru with her trusty motorcycle in tow.
Once there, Bijan and Sunshine hit the road, covering more of Ecuador, Bolivia, Chile and Argentina.
Bijan says her fondest memories are of her time in Sudan. Despite the abject poverty there, she remembers the Sudanese as being the sweetest and most hospitable of people.
“When you cross the border into Sudan and they realise you are a traveller, they welcome you with open arms because not many tourists tend to travel to their country.
“I came across a small, rundown shop selling nuts and grilled meats and as I was about to pay, the shop owner told me that someone had already paid for my meal,” she says, remembering how touched she felt at the kind gesture.
“Even while I ate, the shop owner brought me a drink as a gift.”
The Sudanese hospitality didn’t stop there. She says that once when leaving the hostel she was staying at to grab a meal at a restaurant, the hostel manager cheekily called after her, saying, “Home is here!”
“Even though Sudan may sound like a scary place, I never once felt a sense of danger there,” Bijan says.
The Covid-19 pandemic however threw a spanner in the works and when the first cases were recorded in Wuhan, China, Bijan boarded the next flight back to Malaysia. That was in January 2020.
Like many other travellers, Bijan is itching for the travel ban to be lifted so she can visit the beautiful mountains of Nepal this time.
FMT wishes you all the best on your travels, Bijan!
You can check out Bijan’s fascinating travel adventures on Instagram here.