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Journeying through Kenya with Google Apps

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Journeying through Kenya with Google Apps

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One can easily have Google App installed on both Android of iPhone.


Our plane touched down at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport at 10.30pm local time. We walked through the rather humid weather to an empty arrival hall passing through the Ebola Screening desk. Unknown to us, there is a long queue at the immigration point. Waiting patiently, we stayed on the line until it was our turn. After about 15 minutes wait, we were cleared at immigration, got our luggage and walked into the dark starless Kenyan night.

As we were chauffeur-driven to our hotel in the middle of town, everything seemed seamless. We went through immigration without hassles and the well tarred road we drove on tell of the steady development Kenya is experiencing. Cars sped past us. The velocity of their movements disquiets the tranquillity of the night. We moved through well-lit streets while the illumination of the lights on high rise buildings brightens the dark sky. Gradually we moved into the city center. We were stopped in-between our journey by traffic lights. At a point, the car ahead of us beats the red light. Our driver, hesitant at first, followed suit. Nairobi was drifting to sleep.

Amid sleepy eyes, we finally, we arrived at Sarova Stanley Hotel located in the heart of the business district of Nairobi on Kimath Street. A porter was on hand to assist with our luggage. Taiwo, Google communications manager, was also there to receive us. He heaved a sigh of relief that we had finally arrived after monitoring us with calls to ensure we had no issues with immigration. The night passed quietly.

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From experience, the Google App is the perfect travel assistant anyone could ask for.

Getting down to business

‘Morning came rather too quick’, I thought to myself as I walked into the elevator to the Thorn Tree restaurant for breakfast. The day’s business starts at eight o’clock. I had about 30 minutes left. At the breakfast table, Bukunmi, TV Continental correspondent was there. She was chatting with a couple of friends over breakfast. She introduced me to them. I went for baked potatoes, baked beans and tea for breakfast.

Thereafter, we went to the atrium, The Device Café, located in the hotel’s courtyard. The Google team was waiting. We sat down in an uniformed circle on the seats provided as Paul Solomon, Google PR manager, Africa and Middle East, rose to intimate our group consisting of journalists (print and electronic) and bloggers from different countries in Africa about #GoogleinNairobi event.

Solomon said the idea for the event came when the Google team met in Nairobi about a year and a half ago. “The concept is six months in the making,” he explains. “There are about half a billion internet users in the world. We want to see how our products can make life easier and richer. We want to show how Google App can enhance travel experience, give consumers the information they need before they ask for it, navigate areas with the apps, taking and sharing photos and using Google translates among other apps.”

From experience, the Google App is the perfect travel assistant anyone could ask for. One can easily have Google App installed on both Android of iPhone. This can help one to manage and plan one’s travel. It will also give the right information at the right time.

The Google Voice Search will come in handy whenever you need any information about anything. “The Voice Search allows you ask questions and get answers in natural language, which is perfect for travelling. With the Voice Search, you don’t have to struggle to type while running to catch your plane or squint your eyes while trying to read from your phone in the sun, just say: ‘Okay Google or tap the microphone icon to begin. For instance, if you are concerned about what clothes to pack while travelling, just ask Google: “Will I need a raincoat in Nairobi on Monday?” you will receive an instant spoken answer,” explains Solomon.

Solomon says further that on the Google App is Google Now, Google’s personal assistant. “If you opt for Google Now, we will offer you useful information based on your content and pull relevant information from your Gmail account and Google calendar to make your life easier.”

According to him, getting flight confirmation sent to your Gmail account, Google will bring forward a card a day or two before your trip with the status of your flight, what terminal you need to go to, and when you should leave for the airport to get there on time. If there is a delay on your flights, you will receive a notification so you can amend your travel plans.

“You will also see the weather at your destination, and your boarding pass may appear on your phone depending on the airline. It will help you not to fumble with the self-service check-in terminals, all you need to do is just go thorough to the gate with ease,” Solomon added.

In addition, he says Street View with Google Maps enables you have a 360 degree street level images of thousands of cities, tourist hotspots and places of interest throughout the world.

And of course, Google Translate helps you break the language barrier anywhere you travel to around the world. I had a magical experience translating words in German by just placing the phone just in front of the word and it was automatically translated to English. I never had to type in the word.

“Google is also working on having local languages like Yoruba and Hausa translated automatically,” says Taiwo, Google communication manager in Nigeria.

And so, armed with the knowledge on how the Google App works, we hit the road to have a first-hand experience.

The Great Rift Valley offers a breathtaking view.

The Great Rift Valley offers a breathtaking view.

The Great Rift Valley at last

Our first point of call was the famous Great Rift Valley. I first encountered the Great Rift Valley in the works of Ngugi Wa Thiongo, the great Kenyan novelists. The few times I had been to Kenya, I never had the opportunity to visit the Rift Valley. We drove through the city of Nairobi into the outskirt the Mai Mahiu/Naivasha Road, “the road leads to Uganda,” I was told by Taiwo.

Our 4×4 truck finally pulled to a stop after meandering through bends on the narrow road. The Great Rift Valley offers a breathtaking view. We quickly put the Google Voice Search to test at this point as we asked it to tell us about the Great Rift Valley. To our amazement, the voice promptly responded telling us that it is a large expanse of land that runs 6000km across the Middle East and Africa from Jordan to Mozambique. The Rift Valley stretches round one-sixth of the Earth’s circumference. Along its lengths are volcanoes that are now mostly dormant. One of the rarest animals found here is the Rhino. After taking several selfies and uploading on Instagram, Google+, Twitter and Facebook, we embarked on our journey.

After driving for a few meters, we alighted at the smallest church in East Africa situated on the same Mai Mahiu/Naivasha Road as the Rift Valley. It is a little catholic church built in 1942 by Italian Prisoners Of War (POW) under the strict supervision of British colonialists. It seats 12 people at once. The Voice Search also came in handy here furnishing us with details about the church although we had a tour guide.

Our next stop was the Kiambethu Tea farm. It is an interesting place to see in Nairobi. Located in Limuru, it offers a relaxed atmosphere to interact with nature. The tours around the farm starts off at 11:00 am from the main house. Fiona, the farm owner welcomed us with some homemade biscuits and tea. She took us through an interesting session on how the tea is made. Thereafter, we were divided into four teams, Rhino, Elephant, Lion and Buffalo. Each team was given a white sheet of paper with task to solve using all the Google App. A timer was set. The first team to finish in record time was crowned the winner. And team Rhino did.

Next was a visit to the Karura Waterfall which took our breath away. It was a great way to connect with nature through the lapping sound of the waterfall that could be heard distance away as we took the long walk through the Karura forest. The spectacular 50 feet waterfall cascade down slimy rocks settling into gentle flow of the river below. Another team challenge was given here, the first team to get to the waterfall and upload the picture of all the social media would get a special gift. Of course, team Rhino won again celebrating the victory with a bottle of Champagne at a Sundowner at River Café, Karura. Dinner at Amaica restaurant later that night was fun as we took selfies thanks to Nexus phone given to us by Google. We shared each moment with friends on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook on-the-go.

Nestled in the city of Nairobi, “the park is the only wild life park located in the city in the world,” says Dorothy.

Nestled in the city of Nairobi, “the park is the only wild life park located in the city in the world,” says Dorothy.

The Game Drive

The day two of the event proved to be more interesting as we set out early at 6am for a game safari drive at the famous Nairobi National Park. It was a memorable experience to see different animals. Nestled in the city of Nairobi, “the park is the only wild life park located in the city in the world,” says Dorothy, Google communication manager in Nairobi and the team lead for team Rhino.

A short drive out of Nairobi’s central business district, the Nairobi National Park offers a rare opportunity to see animals like Lion, Giraffe, Rhino, Elephants, and birds like Peacocks in their natural environment. As we moved from one point to another, we saw a Rhino in a distance later it moved a little closer and we were able to take its pictures. “Wow, team Rhino saw a Rhino,” says Dorothy jokingly. Just about that time, our driver got a call that Lions are being viewed in another part of the park. Swiftly, he turned the wheel as we raced down to the spot. It was our lucky day as we saw, Lion King and Lion Queen having a nap surrounded by their curbs numbering five or six. We were so excited by the view such that we took numerous pictures. At a point, Lion King rose in all his majesty charging at his curbs. He walked leisurely towards them followed by the Queen who was still fatigued perhaps from the stress of the previous day.

We later moved to the Ololo Lodge for a brief talk on how Google Street View functions. Evans Arabu, Geo Specialist, Google Sub-Sahara Africa was on hand to tell us how Google is working assiduously with governments of different countries to get actual images of streets to enable users of Google Street View have a more personal experience to complement the use of the Google Map.

We had a great time viewing the elephants at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. It was a remarkable time well spent learning about orphaned elephants. Using Google Voice Search, we were able to get more information about the centre.

The entire #GoogleinNairobi experience was wrapped up with a cocktail at the rooftop at the Kenyatta International Conference Centre. Using Photospheres and Panorama, we were able to create our own sphere moving round in a beautiful circle of images. The beautiful world just stood still.



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