Published on August 25th, 201113
Geocaching: A World-wide Game Custom-made for Travelers
Given the emphasis on travel here, this blog would be remiss were I not to blather at least once about geocaching – a crazy-fun world-wide game of hide ‘n seek that I’ve been playing for more than 7 years. Indeed, with more than A MILLION geocaches hidden in most every blessed country on earth – this game was verily MADE for travelers.
(Antarctica? Yep, 39 caches hidden; Bhutan? uh-huh: 8; Cuba? youbetcha: 41; Thailand? yes indeed: 785. Shoot, there’s more than 10,000 caches hidden here in Seattle ALONE!)
I mean traveling the globe is sublime of course, but try traveling the globe while also hunting for hidden TREASURE! Well o.k. not exactly gold doubloons and glittering diamonds, but still… Remember when you were a wee tot searching for Easter eggs in the backyard? Remember the thrill you felt when you found one? Well that’s the best analogy I can think of to convey the fun of geocaching: a perpetual Easter egg hunt for grownups – all over the globe.
In a nutshell, geocaching is a world-wide community of folk (in all flavors: young, old, families, singles, hikers, geeks, and especially travelers) who never really grew up (and probably still enjoy splashing in mud-puddles every chance they get). Someone hides a container ranging in size from a “nano” no bigger than your pinky fingernail (often camouflaged to blend in with the environment), to tupperware containers , to ammo boxes and even an entire PIANO sitting in the middle of the woods! They capture the precise coordinates of the hide (longitude/latitude) with a GPS receiver, and post the coordinates on the geocaching.com website.
And then the fun begins. Folks grab the coordinates listed on the cache page, and go out and find the cache using their own GPSr (note: there’s now geocaching apps for both iPhones and androids). And when they do, they sign the physical log book and replace the cache exactly as they found it. Many caches have remained hidden for years, and continue to be found by geocachers from all over the world. Later, they log their find online (the site keeps a running total of your finds) including a short note about the experience.
|Of course should you fail to find the cache (hey, it happens to the best of us, though we search high and low) then it’s important to also log a DNF (Did Not Find) online. That way the cache owner will be alerted in case the cache has gone missing or been “muggled” by some non-geocacher (yes, the term taken from the Harry Potter series where “Muggles” are the non-wizards.). Logging a DNF online also helps future seekers of the cache better judge just how difficult it is to find the cache.|
The contents of a typical geocache always includes a log book, and – if the container is large enough – a variety of trinkets for trade and/or geocoins and travel bugs. The latter aren’t insects of course, but rather – novelty keychains, and other small items attached to a metal tag with a unique tracking number. The tags can be purchased at the geocaching.com site, and tracked online as they move from cache to cache. Folks give their “traveler” a goal (e.g. “This little trinket wants to visit the Louvre in Paris, or ride in the Iditarod, or visit all the World Heritage sites, etc.) They then drop their “traveler” in a local cache, and cachers move it to other caches closer and closer to its goal. There are even “Travel Bug Hotels” – large cache containers hidden near most every airport in the World, specifically meant for international Travel Bugs. And when we geocachers fly off to some new continent, we often stop at these “hotels” to pick up any “travelers” that want to go in our direction, and then we drop them in another cache wherever we land.
Some geocachers also drop “sigs” (signature items w/ their username) in caches as a trinket for other cachers to take. As my geocaching username is “globalgirl” I devised a sig with a wee passport (a miniature replica of my real passport) attached to a blue glass marble/globe. Most the marbles have green continents, but for special caches (my 500th find milestone cache, etc.) I’ll drop a sig w/ 24k gold continents! Needless to say, these are quite sought after as collectibles by other cachers. Like travel bugs, these too can be tracked online and it’s fun to watch where they go.
There are many types of geocaches – Multi-caches (w/ multiple waypoints that you must follow to locate the final cache), Mystery caches (that require you to solve a puzzle – perhaps in braille or binary or some sort of riddle, etc. that will reveal the true latitude/longitude coordinates of the hide), night caches (w/ a series of tiny glints attached to trees that can only be seen at night with a flashlight, else might involve a television remote control that operates hidden lights that lead you to the cache), virtual caches (no physical cache container, but rather a public monument or some such, where you must take a photo of yourself to prove you’ve “found” the cache – these are often in sensitive areas like the National Christmas tree in Washington D.C., etc.) There are even “Event caches” – held in pubs or potlucks in parks where the local caching community gets together for some caching fun like… Halloween-themed cache events (w/ wee caches cammoed to look like corn husks amid cornfields) and “Cache Machines” (marathon caching frenzies to find up to 100 or more caches in a single day).
Even more fun than FINDING caches is (leastwise for me) HIDING caches. Among my 20-odd hides (all now archived in prep for my move to another continent) there’s my “Dumb Luck Detour” Multi cache which begins with a stash of scratch-off lottery tickets that reveal – either the coordinates to the final cache, else coordinates that send you on a “detour” where you then find the final coordinates.
While (sadly) some cache hiders just toss a film canister in a guardrail of course (sigh…), many geocachers devise amazingly inventive hides. Some of my favorites include Half-Canadian’s “Radio Days” – a mystery cache whereby when you get to the first waypoint (a remote locale amid nothing but tulip fields), you must tune into a specific AM station on your car radio to hear: “Well hello geocachers! The coordinates for the final are at…” (ie. the lass installed her own radio transmitter at a nearby farm house!) Then there’s Dayspring’s “Totally Tubular” series of cache hides – all of which involve some manner of black pvc pipe, usually zip-tied to a fence. His first of the series required you to dump a gallon of water into the pipe in order to FLOAT the film canister (with the essential log book) tucked inside the pipe – up and out the top! And his latest “Tubular”? Utterly amazing – you must use your car battery and JUMPER CABLES to raise the canister out of the pipe!
In short, there’s no end to the variety and creativity of this high tech game of hide and seek. I’ve found over 1,000 caches since I started geocaching back in 2004 including several in Costa Rica, Bali, Morocco and Egypt. Indeed, some of my fondest travel memories are of geocaching is some far away corner of the globe. Following my Bali trip, I had a 22 hr. layover in Taiwan, so I contacted a geocacher in Taipei (a total stranger but for our mutual love of geocaching) and… suffice he and his wife and daughter met me at the airport one evening, put me up for the night, and took me on a whirlwind tour of Taipei the next day, finding geocaches all along the way.
And when I headed to Egypt, I deliberately scheduled my flight with a 9 hr. layover in Amsterdam. Again, I contacted the Dutch geocaching community, and a small group met me at the Amsterdam train station at 7am, and kindly took me on a geocaching tour of that fine city – including renting paddle boats to find a cache hidden under a bridge spanning one of the canals. Indeed, after a final stop at Amsterdam’s only remaining windmill/now pub to sample some local brews, they poured me back on the train and I stumbled to board my onward flight to Cairo that night.
Needless to say, geocaching has provided me with bountiful memories of good times with old and new friends all over the world. And while nowadays I generally only go after extra special local caches, you can bet that I’ve already checked the geocaching.com website for the 42 caches hidden in Vietnam.
Check it out– you can sign up with your own account for free. Do a search for your zip code or city, and I can almost guarantee you’ll find at least a dozen or more caches hidden within a few miles of your front door!