I got lost the first time I tried to use a map. The irony is not lost on me. I was exploring Berlin in 2012 alone armed with a printed map and no more German in my system than "Guten Morgen" when I found myself in a train going through a forest.
Confused, I swung around frantically until I locked eyes with a friendly-looking woman who said "Hello" to me in English. She gently told me that I was, in fact, headed North and not South as I had intended.
"Just alight and take the next train back," she advised. Which I did, all the while thinking that this was payback for all the times in primary and secondary school when I read romance novels instead of paying attention during Geography lessons.
Anyway, I swore to myself that I would learn to read maps and ravenously embarked on this. Suffice it to say that I can now tell North from South.
Most of the time, at least.
I was reminded of this during a recent trip to Kisumu whose main agenda was to use Google Maps to explore the lakeside city . My map-reading skills, as you may have noticed by now, are rudimentary at best, but I get by. And before the trip, I had only used Google Maps’ most basic features-like moving from point A to B.
But Google is determined that we don't just get by with map-reading.
There are many features available even for those whose sense of direction mirrors mine. For example, you can download maps and use them offline; which is what we did on the visit to Impala Sanctuary, the home of impalas, zebras, baboons, cheetahs, leopards, lions and birds of different species.
Google Maps can also help people explore restaurants, clubs and places to stay and this exploration, and with a recommendation from one of our travel-mates, leads us to a snazzy joint called Dunga Hill Camp which distinctly reminds me of the Alchemist in Westlands, Nairobi.
With a brightly painted truck that doubles as a bar and recycled furniture, not-too-loud music and a creative menu with the catchy phrase: Cham Gi Wadu (Sharing is Caring), it’s the kind of place you can bring your children, mother and pets.
As it’s located right next to the lake, the sunsets there are to die for.
Dunga beach, said to be the only existing public beach in Kisumu, is a great place to sample fresh fish from the lake at affordable prices, watch fishermen fish, have a picnic, watch the sunset and try your hand at beading from the different work stations.
We settle for Jackson Beadwork, where the artists teach us the ropes in beading.
I realise that beading requires some talent and tonnes of patience- two things I sorely lack, but I still managed to create a basic bracelet for my daughter, much to her delight when I gave it to her later.
A visit to Kisumu would be incomplete without a tour of the legendary Kit Mikayi (the stone of the first wife) located about 29 kilometres from Kisumu. Again, if you anticipate challenges with internet connections, you can download an offline map for the trip as there’s little signage on the way there.
We meet Mzee Ngeso, a local tour guide who regales us with tales of how the rock earned its name.
Mzee Ngeso says he is a descendant of Ngeso, who is believed to have cherished the rocks so much that he even asked his wife to bring him meals there.
When people would ask his wife where her husband was, she would say he was with his first wife and that is how the rock came to be named so.
Kit Mikayi is also a place of worship for the Legio Maria sect and on our visit there, a few worshippers trickle in to pray and offer sacrifices.
Mzee Ngeso earns his living from tips as he’s not employed as a tour guide and this knowledge allows us to use yet another feature: The reviewing and editing function.
Adding Mzee Ngeso’s photo, contact details and a comment about his services makes it easier for the next tourist to access his services. And with his witty remarks and stellar content delivery, he’s worth a five star review.
One can easily become a Google local guide through contributions by way of adding photos, reviews and editing places. You can Google to find out more about becoming a local guide.
Apart from Impala Sanctuary, Dunga Hill Camp, Dunga Public Beach and Kit Mikayi, we also sample Kisumu by night for dinner and dancing.
The Roan Bar and Restaurant, The Laughing Buddha Lounge & Café ( warning: they don’t serve meat) and Tripple T hotel are some of the places for real good food, especially fish and Kienyeji chicken.
The Laughing Buddha Lounge & Café are famed for their desserts, according to the reviews on Google, but we sadly did not get to sample the sweet delights.
My map-reading skills may not be perfect, but at least this time, the only forest I found myself in was one I wanted to be in.