After a couple of days in a twilight zone of unbelievably generous Kazak hospitality, you’d’ve scarcely recognised Joe and I from the nervous wrecks who rolled into the little known town of Aktobe in a broken car and a blind panic.

But meeting a man who can only be described as Kazakhstan’s unofficial ambassador (if not national treasure) turned out to be a gargantuan stroke of luck which made our last few days in Kazakhstan some of the most fun and most rewarding – if not surreal – of the trip so far.

We met with Gennady (whose name we’d found in the Lonely Planet) at his advertising agency office early in the morning, having rolled into town late the previous night, unable to find a hotel for less than $130 (ouch!).

We really were just expecting a kind word of advice on where we could take Bob to get him looked at, but immediately it was apparent that we weren’t leaving town until Gennady had done everything in his power to help us.

We told him our car woes and he made some suggestions for mechanics (or as he called them ‘masters’) who might be able to help. Within a minute or two, and with the help of delightful Alex (a designer who works for Gennady with a degree in English translation) a plan had been devised involving 3 variants of mechanics with varying degrees of specialty and price. ‘But first,’ he said ‘we must find you a huddle and some breakfast.’

At first, as we explained the situation more, there was some confusion over why we’d booked into the most expensive hotel in town, rather than calling him first to ask for help, but after a while he had devised a cunning plan to find us a better cheaper hotel, cancel our current booking and move our belongings there, stat!

And so a 4 day whirlwind of welcome, a schedule of services of unfathomable help and kindness unfolded…

We set off in convoy to the first mechanic, where he managed to get Bob looked at straight away; he made recommendations for a shop where we could buy some spare parts and antifreeze before taking us for an amazing sushi lunch. Then he took us to a hotel which was half the price of the one we had booked, negotiated an early checkout with our existing hotel and helped us move our bags. What a guy!

In the meantime, the mechanics called to say they couldn’t identify the problem, so Gennady called another friend, who insisted that we use their specialist 4WD garage ‘They are guests of Kazakhstan,’ he said, ‘bring them to my garage and I guarantee we can fix their problem’. So off we went. They needed a few hours to test the problem, so Gennady took us to another garage to pick up his Mercedes SLK, after all, he mused, we would need something to get around Aktobe in and see the sights…I’m normally apprehensive about borrowing peoples sports cars when I’ve only met them that morning, but Gennady was very convincing ‘there’s no problem,’ he said, ‘what’s the problem?’ Good point. So off we went to visit the Mosque and Russian Orthodox churches, back to our much more bank balance friendly hotel and out for an Armenian dinner…

Whilst Bob was being worked on, we spent the next few days happily playing the role of guests of honour; Gennady organised an interview with a local magazine, a kite surfing trip out to a local lake – his beautiful wife even took me for a manicure and hair treatment at the beauty parlour! We were given all the time and attention he could muster, driven around in his Hummer H1 (Joe even drove it for a day!), shown every local delight, spoilt with great lunches and counselled with all sorts of information about our chosen route through Russia, borders, roads and hazards. No detail was too big or too small. He even gave us a new thermos.

I was trying to understand this profound kindness from Gennady’s POV, and he explained that helping people in this way was all part of Kazak tradition; ‘travellers, guests are like angels from god,’ he said. It might be old fashioned, but it’s certainly worth travelling the world to meet people like Gennady who hold it true.

And that little problem with Bob? What problem?  It was just a blockage in the 2nd fuel filter (an after market part). They removed it completely and then cleaned the original fuel filter and now he works fine, maybe even better than before. The whole drama set us back $30, and they replaced one of our broken jerry cans for free. They also cleaned the entire car inside and out for about $6.

Hang on, what? Did that just happen?