Cape Town through Google’s Lens

The popping colours of the Bo-Kaap are expressions of freedom. Photos: Hanru Marais for Google

Technology makes travel easier and more fun, Demola Ojo discovers on a Google Gulliver trip to Cape Town…

The colourful houses of the Bo-Kaap, the majestic views from Table Mountain and the delicious wines of the Cape; all experienced through the lens of Google.

This wasn’t the first time I was visiting Cape Town, a South African city renowned as one of the most picturesque on the planet. However, the opportunity to experience the city at the invitation of Google was an opportunity not to be passed up.

Google has a suite of free tools and applications for smartphones that make travelling easier and more fun from Translate, which can help you speak in 90 languages, Maps to get you around an unfamiliar city and Photos to help organise and share pictures from your trip.

As part of its Gulliver initiative, Google takes journalists and influencers on a tour of a city to show them how Google can help people travel smarter using apps and technology.

With Google being a ubiquitous brand with tools readily at the fingertips of everyone from tech geeks to internet newbies, it is tempting to conclude that there isn’t that much more to learn.

But there’s a lot more ways that Google makes life easier beyond being the dominant search engine in the world. On a trip like this, Google Assistant already has the travel dates and time and helps with reminders regarding the itinerary, from flights to meetings.  Added to these are suggestions on how to get the best out of a new city, places to see and things to do.

On this particular trip to Cape Town, the Google team with members from Lagos, Johannesburg, Nairobi, London and San Francisco put together an itinerary tagged Cape Town with Google. Participants numbering close to 30 were drawn from different cities across Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa.

First off was the welcome dinner at the Radisson Red V&A Waterfront Hotel. The choice of the hotel as base was appropriate.  Radisson Red is a brand targeted at millennials, and has an artsy, techie vibe.

In between a sumptuous buffet and choice wine (which the Cape region is renowned for), the Google PR team – Taiwo Kola-Ogunlade, Mich Atagana  , Dorothy Ooko and Andrew Brennan – briefed the journalists and influencers on the fun tasks they would have to accomplish over the next few days, through the suite of Google tools at their disposal.

 The highlight of the dinner briefing had to be the presentation by Lou Wang, who leads product management for Google Lens, which cuts across Google Search, Assistant, Photos, and Camera.


Just Lens It!

A panoramic view of the Bo-Kaap as seen from Utopia Restaurant. Photo: Hanru Marais for Google

Google Lens is a tool that uses artificial intelligence to recognise objects in the real world. The image recognition technology is designed to bring up relevant information related to objects it identifies using visual analysis.

The growing list of things Lens can recognize spans over 1 billion products including furniture, clothing, books, movies, music albums, landmarks, points of interest, notable buildings, Wi-Fi network names and passwords, flowers, pets, beverages, and celebrities.

It’s also able to extract phone numbers, dates, and addresses from business cards and add them to your contacts list.

Best of all, Lens is easy to use, as easy as pointing your phone’s camera at the object in question. Think of it as Google search but with pictures rather than words.


A Walk that Ends with a Bang 

Group photo of influencers, journalists and the Google team before setting out on a city tour . Photo: Hanru Marais for Google

The next few days were an opportunity to put Google tools to work, including the exciting Google Lens. On the itinerary was a city tour that started with a walk through the Bo Kaap which – as Google translate will tell you – means above the cape in Afrikaans.

Situated at the foot of Signal Hill, on the fringe of the city centre, and formerly known as the Malay Quarter, the Bo-Kaap is one of Cape Town’s most distinct neighbourhoods with origins dating back to the eighteenth century when numerous rental houses were built and leased to slaves.

These people were known as Cape Malays, and were brought from Malaysia, Indonesia and the rest of Africa to work in the Cape.

Bo-Kaap is one of the most colourful neighbourhoods you will ever see. There are a few accounts why this area – which contains the largest concentration of pre-1850 architecture in South Africa, and is the oldest surviving residential neighbourhood in Cape Town – pops out in different bright colours.

 The most plausible account attributes the choice of colour to the fact that while on lease, all the houses had to be white or grey. When this rule was eventually lifted, and the slaves were allowed to buy the properties, all the houses were painted bright colours by their owners as an expression of their freedom.

The oldest building in the Bo-Kaap currently houses the Bo-Kaap Museum, while the first mosque in South Africa can also be found in the Bo-Kaap.

During the walk through Bo-Kaap, we stopped at Monkeybiz where we learnt how to make beads, before heading to Signal Hill for the Noon Gun.

The Noon Gun is one of Cape Town’s oldest traditions and has been a historic time signal since 1806. It was used as a signal (hence Signal Hill) to ships in Table Bay. These are the oldest guns in daily use in the world.

The Noon Gun has been one constant in Cape Town’s colourful and ever-changing history, with the tradition surviving colonial occupations, wars, and apartheid. It has been fired every day since 1806, apart from Sundays and public holidays.

 Two guns are loaded daily (in case of a misfire – although that’s rumoured to have only happened once in more than 200 years!) with 1.5kg of gunpowder.  At precisely noon, the gun is fired.

A View to Die For

The writer (right) and his team take a picture before preparing a meal .Photo: Hanru Marais for Google

No matter how many times you visit the Table Mountain, it never fails to awe. The commute with the cable car is usually against a backdrop of “oohs” and “aahs” as the rock formations and the city view elicit wonder.

 Just as important as the amazing landscape is the company one goes with. It is safe to say Google brought together some of the coolest journalists and influencers from across the continent with various attributes: stylish, sense of humour, adventurous.

We had been split up into different teams, all competing to complete certain tasks with prizes to be won at the end of the trip. One of the many tasks was to identify four different types of Fynbos (meaning fine-leaved plants in Afrikaans) with Google Lens.

Let’s just say my team consisted of daredevils looking all pretty in floral dresses, encouraging you with a sweet smile to take one last picture on the edge of the cliff. For the gram. For the culture. Or just for the thrill of it.

It’s difficult to say no after they go first. And you’re glad you didn’t, when you experience the exhilaration of facing your fears and conquering them.  Not sure about the task but we certainly had the most fun.

Chefs and Winemakers

The Nigerian crew had a swell time at Stellenbosch . Photo: Hanru Marais for Google

The tasks kept coming, sometimes in unexpected ways. The next was to become a “MasterChef” or at least the closest one could get within a couple of hours and with limited guidance, but with the help of Google Assistant.

The venue was the Atlantic Film Studios, Montague Gardens, Western Cape, which plays host to the Kokkedoor Afrikaans cooking competition reality show aired on DSTV.

 For dinner, the first course and dessert were courtesy of the chef. The main course(s) had to be cooked by us, the guests.

 Well, not everyone is at home in the kitchen but it wasn’t so difficult after all. The recipes were detailed, all ingredients were available and there was Google Lens and Assistant to help.

An important lesson here was how team work goes a long way in achieving goals. In the end, dinner was served and we shared and tasted each other’s food. It was a fun experience and yes, there was more Cape wine.

But we didn’t stop at making our own food. The next day was a Winelands tour and we set out for Stellenbosch where we visited the Middelvlei, Spier and Nederburg wine estates. They are all winemakers of repute, steeped in traditions going back centuries.

At the former, each team’s task was to make its own unique blend of wine using Merlot, Shiraz and Pinotage. As you can imagine, different groups came up with different outcomes, depending on the percentage of each base used. Middelvlei graciously bottled the signature blend for everyone who partook. You get what you blend.

 Lunch was served in between history lessons (and wine tasting) at Spier and Nedeburg, before leaving for Cape Town to dinner and more prizes at the Two Oceans Aquarium at the V&A Waterfront.

Dinner was an intimate affair with lots of conversation and laughter, set right in front of a large aquarium with shoals of fish and sand tiger sharks (thank you Lens).

There was a lot to thank Google for; an absolutely fabulous time, useful gifts and cool prizes (read: Google Home Assistant) for task winners. For one who has been to Cape Town a few times, it’s safe to say it’s a totally different experience with Google.