Change the way you travel

HR-shutterstock_334382201Msafiri challenged Carole Argwings-Kodhek to set out from Nairobi to test five apps designed to enhance your travel

Some of us have been dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century, unashamed to admit being die-hard technophobes. But when something comes along that is so easy to use that it becomes indispensable, it’s time to wake up and take note. How about apps that give you sneak previews of your destination, take the stress out of getting around, and allow you to recall and share the highlights? It’s as easy as saying “OK Google…”

Google Translate: Open Up Your World
Google Translate works with you to communicate seamlessly in more than 60 languages, from Afrikaans to Zulu. Google is currently fine-tuning a Swahili-language pack and is aiming for a 90-language suite imminently.

Simply speak or type in your sentence and the app will immediately translate it for you both verbally and in written form. It works offline as well, and allows you to save translations across devices. With the revolutionary Word Lens feature – available in about 20 languages – text changes almost instantaneously on screen. See a sign you don’t understand? No problem: simply hold your phone up to the text and wait for the written translation in your language of choice. Sheer magic!

The Great Rift Valley
Looking out across the unending expanse of the Rift is a humbling experience. The sweeping vista from the escarpment viewing point on the Nairobi-Nakuru Highway showcases endless plains, rolling hills and two dormant volcanoes, Mt Suswa nearby, and, in the hazy distance, Mt Longonot.

“OK Google, when was the Great Rift Valley formed?” Within seconds, Google answers that it was formed 25-30 million years ago.

A few minutes away in Mai Mahiu lies Africa’s smallest church. The tiny Catholic church sits snuggled into the forested flanks of the escarpment in a bend of the old highway overlooking the Rift. Google says it was built in 1942 by Italian prisoners of war interned in Kenya after their defeat in Ethiopia.

The British, predominantly Anglican, colonial powers of the day forced the POWs to build a road through the treacherous terrain infested with snakes and wild animals, but showed compassion when the prisoners asked for a place of their own in which to worship.

Go to Google Voice Search
If you’re on the move there’s never time to type out queries or battle the glare from bright sunlight, but why worry when this app responds to your voice and has an instant answer? Simply say “OK Google…” or tap the microphone icon and ask your question. It’s a pocket genius that knows the height of Mt Kenya, the capital of Azerbaijan, and the time of high tide in Diani.

Kiambethu Tea Farm
Five generations have lived and farmed at Kiambethu Farm since their colonial ancestor A B McDonell first settled here in 1910. A short drive from the city centre, the farm overlooks a plush lawn bordered by flowerbeds and bushes bursting with colour on the undulating green slopes of Limuru. The settler farmhouse is surrounded by 30 luscious acres of brilliant green tea and ancient indigenous forest populated by the old men of the trees – Colobus monkeys, and other wildlife. The air is fresh, with a hint of cow on the breeze.

In 1918 McDonell became the first person to grow, process and sell tea commercially in Kenya. The estate continues the tradition to the present day, and has opened its doors to guests who can visit for a day of relaxation hosted by McDonell’s descendant Fiona Vernon, who glows with pride as she recounts the family history and describes the delicate process of tea picking over an informal cup of tea in the sturdy, wooden-floored farmhouse.

Go to Google Maps and Review
Google Maps pinpoints your location, and will show you the route taken from your start point (it’s a free voice-guided satellite navigator). You can also use voice search for more information on your venue, and leave a review. On the latest versions of Android, you have a Timeline option that allows you to rediscover where you’ve been and how you got there. It also displays the photographs you took!

Karura Forest and River Café
The late Nobel Laureate, Wangari Maathai and other conservationists fought tirelessly to preserve the Karura Forest, which today is an oasis of tranquillity in the heart of Nairobi County. Despite Maathai’s defiance of powerful individuals, illegal logging and ruthless land grabbing have reduced the officially gazetted forest area by almost half, but thousands of soaring indigenous trees still stand majestically within the remaining 564 hectares.

There are nearly 50km of nature trails within this green haven, where dedicated joggers take to the meandering pathways in the early morning and evening. Take a leisurely 5km round-trip stroll to the spectacular 15m-high waterfalls, where gushing sepia-coloured water cascades over three rock shelves before rejoining the gentle Karura River. The forest conservators have scattered benches throughout the forest where you can rest or enjoy a picnic under the trees. There is also a bamboo forest, ancient caves reputed to have been hideouts for freedom fighters, a marshland boasting a large range of birdlife, and forest animals such as tiny dik dik slipping noiselessly through the undergrowth.

Go to Google Photo
The setting is perfect for taking photos, which are automatically backed-up in your Google account for easy sharing. This also means you can clear images and videos from your phone to create space for more, as Google offers unlimited storage. There are several options in the app that capture extensive panoramic views, take videos, create composite spheres and allow editing.

Best of all, the app allows you to search for people, places and other items that appear in your photos: find that smiling waiter at the Carnivore by simply searching for ‘food’ or ‘Nairobi’. Amazingly, the app also automatically generates montages of your days, which are shown on your timeline in Google Maps.

Game drive at Nairobi National Park
Nairobi is home to the world’s only game park within a city. Animals roam the park against a backdrop of skyscrapers in one direction and the Ngong Hills in another.

The big cats – cheetah, lion and leopard – stalk the plains along with hyenas and vultures. Small herds of zebra, buffalo, eland and wildebeest graze peacefully in the shadows thrown by acacia trees, where giraffe reach for tender shoots.

The Nairobi National Park is home to a rhino sanctuary and breeding facility that features the endangered black rhino; the Animal Orphanage where rescued, wounded and orphaned animals such as lion, cheetah, baboon, buffalo and warthog are treated and nurtured; and the Nairobi Safari Walk, which showcases what Kenya’s parks and reserves have to offer. Three ecosystems (wetlands, savannah and forest) are represented on the Safari Walk, each with its own unique wildlife – including big cats, antelope and the rare bongo, rhino and an albino zebra among others. Within the park there are also several picnic sites and hiking trails near the hippo pools. You can also visit the famous site where ivory confiscated from poachers and smugglers was burned in a protest that shocked the world and made a powerful statement against the ivory trade.

Go to Google Photo
Take photos of your wildlife encounters to share through your Google account.

David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust
The tiny, trusting elephant calves, some merely days old and tripping over their own feet, rush towards their gum-booted carers and latch onto the huge teats on bottles filled with a special milk formula. The vulnerable creatures are the lucky ones to be found alive after their mothers were slaughtered by heartless poachers or have perished due to habitat loss.

The Trust has saved, reared and rehabilitated more than 150 elephants and many rhino calves before releasing them back into the wild. The trust also runs a fostering programme in partnership with the Kenya Wildlife Service.

Go to Street View in Google Maps
Street View is a 360-degree photo image that allows you to step inside the orphanage and other selected venues such as Samburu National Park, global monuments and restaurants. With Street View you can explore thousands of cities, world heritage sites and natural wonders before you visit.

GoDown Arts Centre
It’s a happening place: everything to do with artistic creativity can be found at the GoDown in Nairobi. The exterior walls are covered in colourful graffiti and music emanates from open doorways. Artists welcome us into their subsidised studios where incomplete canvases are stacked against the walls, and the puppet masters of the popular XYZ Show manipulate their caricature-like subjects for our amusement.

The GoDown vibrates with the passion and energy of the artists who have found a home to freely express their art. In 2003, the former car repair warehouse was established with a mission to “develop independent artists across multiple art forms and to participate in the advancement of the cultural sector, thereby contributing to the establishment of a robust arts and culture sector with expanding receptive audiences.” Towards that end, the centre stages exhibitions, plays and music festivals on a regular basis.

Go to Google Cultural Institute
The GoDown features in Google’s Cultural Institute, which showcases millions of the world’s cultural and historical treasures in amazing detail. In partnership with hundreds of institutions, Google gives you fingertip access to more than 190 thousand artworks and a total of six million photos, videos and manuscripts, as well as other documents of art, culture and history.

Kenyatta International Conference Centre (KICC)
The view from the top of the KICC helipad gives a stunning panorama of Nairobi city and environs. With a population of more than 3.5 million, the capital of Kenya ranks as the 14th largest city in Africa, and fifth in terms of dollar millionaires. Skyscrapers dominate the city skyline, and the leafy suburbs shimmer greenly in the near distance.

Go to Photospheres and Panorama in Google Photos
Recreate the panorama on your phone, by following the photo stitching blue dot and allowing your phone to register the view automatically. You can also create spectacular 360- degree photospheres that take in everything from sky to earth and all around.

Google in Nairobi
In 2015 Google registered more searches on mobile phones than from desktop computers.
This was revealed during the Google in Nairobi event held in October. Journalists from across Africa were introduced to Google’s apps through hands-on experience as they were taken on day trips from the capital of Nairobi to some of Kenya’s best-loved locations.

According to Paul Solomon, Google Head of Communications, Middle East and North Africa: “The Internet… should serve us, make our lives richer through teaching, discovering and entertaining. We [Google] intend to be a crucial part of that process.”