Like most journalists working in New Zealand in the past few years, I’ve covered my share of stories about freedom campers.
Mostly what a nuisance they are, how the Government plans to crack down on them and whose property they’ve most recently taken a squat on.
So I was a little nervous about freedom camping (also called wild camping) in a foreign country. The concept of turning up and pitching a tent on someone’s land does feel a little brazen.
On our first night, 80 kilometres east of Samarkand, our camping app iOverlander told us of a site overlooking a river valley.
We arrived to find a cliff top that dropped away to the rushing grey river below - a beautiful but exposed spot - the apricot orchard over the road looked far more appealing.
But we were apprehensive about setting up camp on someone’s land without asking.
Just then an old ute came spluttering along the road and pulled over.
Through a few hand gestures we were able to ascertain this was the farmer, and we motioned sleeping while pointing under the trees.
He nodded vigorously, but motioned that we should avoid the small stream that ran across the field.
The next morning he came over and mimed sleeping then questioned us with a thumbs up, which we returned with big grins.
He seemed chuffed and pointed towards his house, indicating we should come for food and tea.
Pointing to the road ahead, we tapped our wrists to explain we needed to go.
This scene would play out countless times – a generous invitation into a home, the offer of food and a bed, and the apologetic decline.
The following night we slept in a wheat field overlooking a dramatic ravine.
A fantastic spot, but a lesson learnt about sharp, freshly harvested wheat stalks and blow-up sleeping mats. Thankfully we have repair patches.
Soon after we arrived small children materialised from the grass, peering at us from a distance, waving shyly and gathering bunches of a fragrant herb that smelled like a sweeter maanuka.*
As we were falling asleep at about 9pm, I heard hushed voices approaching the tent and the polite clearing of a throat.
My immediate thought was that we were about to get turfed off. I’m sure that’d be the outcome at home.
A confused Jack, seeing torchlight and the lights from a faraway car, thought we’d been surrounded by insurgents.
When we opened the tent fly, our assumptions were put to shame.
A kind face smiled down, and in an extended hand was a plate of watermelon slices and fresh cream cheese.
It was the landowner, her daughter had informed her of our presence.
They’d walked about 400m from their home in the dark to deliver two strangers dessert.
Blown away by the kind gesture, we thanked her profusely and managed to work out the origin of the cheese thanks to my well-honed impression of a goat.
Two nights later we found a secluded spot by a river 40km from Dushanbe.
As we pitched our tents, a man walked past and gave us a friendly wave.
Two pairs of kids clattered by on donkeys, shouting “Hello! Hello!
And a young boy sold us half his big handpicked bucket of blackberries which we ate on the riverbank as the sun set.
New Zealanders are meant to be a friendly bunch, but I reckon we’ve been beaten by the Tajiks.
*The kids said a word to me that sounded like '“joroob” - if anyone has botanical knowledge of Central Asia please do get in touch!