One of the hardest things about the Mongol Rally is that we are speeding through countries in a car. This means that we really don’t have much time to get out and meet locals or dig into culture which really pains me. In fact – we encounter most cultural/local interaction at gas stations – which is a really weird way to experience a country.
However, in Aktobe we were able to dig one level deeper thanks to Lonely Planet. I was starting to research our route for the next few days in hopes of getting some lodging leads while my teammates went to the market and got the car washed. However, when looking at the map I started to get concerned about our routes. I looked at my Lonely Planet guide on my Kindle to see if I could find out more information and there it was…a name of someone who could help – Gennady Zobenko. Specifically, it said (he) “offers information on routes and road conditions.” It was as if someone answered my prayers. I quickly sent an email to Gennady to ask about our route, but honestly had little hope of hearing back from him in such short notice.
Surprise…within 5 minutes I had a response…but it was all in Russian. Considering I can’t even understand the word “Hotel” in Russian, there was no hope of me understanding his response. I took my laptop down to the reception desk and asked if someone could translate for me. Gennady answered all of my questions and provided his phone number and asked me to call him. When we called him he asked where we were and said that he’d be there to meet us in 5 minutes. I was stunned. I didn’t really know if I wanted/needed to meet him, but I couldn’t really say no. Sure enough, he came to our hotel in his Mercedes and introduced himself. We sat and mulled over maps and routes and he provided us updates on road conditions – a savior after the last few days of struggling on horrible roads.
The team with Gennady
He then asked if we had been registered yet. Apparently, we (the so-called ‘professional’ travelers) had failed to read the Visa paperwork and learned that we had to be registered in Kazakhstan within 5 days of arriving there else we faced big fines upon leaving. We were at day 5. Shit. Gennady sprung into action: he took us to the police station to get the proper registration we needed. Hell – it would have taken us 2 hours to even find the police station – and then there is no way we could have communicated with them. But Gennady had it all worked out for us after a short police lunch break. He translated for us, helped us get our forms filled out and expedited. Now…the big drum roll…what did he want in exchange for all of his help taking up about 4 hours of his day???
This total stranger was simply helping us for hours…and wanted nothing but for us to like his country. He was like a Kazakhstani Ambassador. As he led us out of town and sent us on our way I thought to myself, “What is his motivation?” He spent 4 hours with us trying to get this all worked out so that we didn’t get a fine…and I don’t know why he did it. However I’ve learned to not analyze this too much in my travels…but instead I embrace and celebrate it. The kindness of strangers is amazing all around the world.
If you ever need any help in Kazakhstan in /around Aktobe – please contact Gennady Zobenko at [email protected] – and find a translator!
I'm Sherry, a corporate cube dweller turned nomadic traveler. I travel to off-the-beaten-path destinations to bring you unique travel experiences and photography. But it's not just about travel, it's also about life experiences of a middle age wanderer.