A Way to Travel Without Travelling

As we head reluctantly into our fifth week of social isolation, many of you will be yearning for an escape, to a deserted beach maybe, or the open plains of a national park. It may be a while still before we can move as freely as we did before the age of coronavirus, but there are some ways in the meantime to ease your travel itches.

With few other options, ‘virtual travel’ is thriving. Using virtual reality headsets like the HTC Vive or Oculus Quest, you can experience a thrilling ascent of Mount Everest from the comfort of your living room. You can also swim with blue whales, or drive around the surface of Mars. VR headsets are expensive, though, and may be difficult to find in Kenya.

A free alternative is to watch live feeds on Youtube from interesting locations around the world. Some of the best of these feeds are listed in a BBC article titled ‘Coronavirus: How to see the world without leaving your home’.

At the top of the list is a stream from a webcam by a waterhole in South Africa’s Tembe Elephant Park. When I first tuned in, it was a sunny morning and a lone giraffe was contorting itself awkwardly as they do to have a drink. I have to say, the calming sounds of the wilderness – the chatter of birds and splashing of animals at the waterhole – provided me with instant relief from my neighbour’s yapping Shih Tzu.

There’s a similar live feed closer to home, from the rooftop of The Ark Lodge in the Aberdares. The feed is on the homepage of their website, http://www.thearkkenya.com, and when I last checked it there was a large herd of elephants milling around the waterhole.

Three of the feeds in the BBC article are from webcams set up in some of the busiest cities in the world: Tokyo, New York and Venice. The Tokyo stream is from the iconic Shibuya crossing, while the New York one is from Times Square. I first tuned in to the latter at 1:45 am and there wasn’t a soul in sight, just flashing adverts for musicals and concerts that no-one can attend.

I checked the feed again at 11 am, when I thought the streets may not be so eerily quiet, but they were still empty. The city has been hit hard by the virus, with 122,000 cases at the time of writing, so I can understand why New Yorkers are reluctant to leave their homes.

Another popular tourist spot on lockdown is Venice, where locals are used to rubbing shoulders with up to 30 million visitors every year. So this quiet period is a bit of a silver lining for Venetians, and for the fish in the city’s canals. In the absence of motorised transport, which normally churns up the muddy canal floors, Venice’s waterways are calm and clear. Through the live feed, you can enjoy the city’s main sites – such as the St. Mark’s Square and the Rialto Bridge across the Grand Canal – with a backdrop of classical music.

The remaining featured feeds are from stunning remote locations: a scenic train journey across the heart of Norway, Canada’s Manitoba province – where you can witness the mesmeric northern lights – a quaint forested village above the Arctic Circle in northern Finland, a white beach on the Thai island of Koh Samui, a gorilla conservation centre in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, and (as remote as you can get) from the International Space Station.

Although it isn’t really a live stream, but a series of pre-recorded videos spliced together, I found myself glued to the train journey across Norway, which snakes past picturesque fjords, lakes and snow-covered forests. It was surprisingly soothing, and a timely tonic for my travel ache.

Published in Kenya’s Sunday Nation