This is a guest post by Corey Waldner of Where’s Waldner.
Imagine yourself walking down the street, doesn’t really matter where in the world you are, and you see someone standing around with a very thick “cellphone.” He notices you watching him and proceeds to talk a bit more into that strange looking cellphone, turning away from you. You shrug and walk off.
That was me. My cellphone was actually a GPS, and I was waiting for you to stop paying attention to me so I could grab the magnetic film canister hidden in one of the poles of the metal gate beside me. That magnetic film canister? It’s a geocache. Something, sometimes no bigger than a penny, sometimes larger than a 5 gallon pail, that someone decides to hide and post the latitude and longitude coordinates online. Those with a GPS can go onto the Geocaching website and download these coordinates to go on a high-tech treasure hunt, find it, sign their name, and rehide it.
No matter where you go in the world, no matter which country, there is bound to be a geocache somewhere. Yes, even places such as Iraq and Antarctica have geocaches. But why do it? Is there a prize, an end goal? There certainly is, but maybe not in the way you think. Us traveler’s are always in a sort of competition on who can find the most authentic cultural experience. Trading stories of those times when we were lost in translation as though we were high-profile lawyers talking about the latest mass tort case. Geocaching is just another way of seeing a country through the eyes of a local, as rules stipulate that you must live nearby in order to maintain the container.
The “Gum Wall” at Seattle’s famed Pike Place Market is home to a geocache among all those pieces of gum…
And such, many geocaches will be in areas that only locals know about. You have the geocache that is hidden at the site of a set of Inca ruins just on the outskirts of Cuzco, Peru. It’s within walking distance (less than a kilometre) and yet no tours go to it. You go for a geocache and end up with an entire archaeological site to yourself to wander and marvel at. You have a geocache in central Morocco, hidden in the store of a friendly old man who finds the whole idea completely giggle-worthy and won’t let you leave unless you “sign the box book and have some tea!” You spend the next half hour chatting to this wonderfully adorable old man, learning things about the city no tour would ever tell you. I could go on for hours on the hidden gems that these hidden treasures take you to. Abandoned churches in the hills on Greek islands; beautiful fountains hidden from prying eyes in the streets of Rome; views over the Red Sea from a mountain in Egypt; a quiet spot with a view of Iguazu Falls with nary a tourist in sight.
I myself, since leaving home on my trip around the world, have found over 200 geocaches. At least one has been found in every country I’ve visited. I don’t work my route around the idea of finding these treasures. Not at all. Instead, I use them as just something extra that the city and place has to offer me. I will choose a place to go, then quickly glance at the website to see if there are any there. Geocaching has certainly allowed me to extend my time in some cities because, as a consequence of looking for them, you tend to see the city sites a lot slower than your regular traveler. In Zagreb, for instance, a city which many use as a day or two stopover to the coast of Croatia, I stayed five days. Three of those five consisted of nothing but picking an area of the city and looking for geocaches. And, along the way, discovering amazing restaurants, parks, churches, and residential areas.
It is true what they say that the journey is so much more the point than the destination. I still remember the pride I felt, having climbed halfway up the side of Sugarloaf Mountain in Rio de Janiero in search of a geocache. Finding the geocache was nice, but it was the knowledge that I conquered my fear of heights and scaled a rock face set at a 75 degree angle for 200 meters that forced me to pause and take in the scenery and to realize the feat that I had accomplished.
The hobby is fun. It is challenging at times. But most of all, it is worldwide. It is your own personal local guide to a specific area(a non-physical cache in Egypt that has you searching one of its many temples for specific answers to questions). Or to a specific historical event(following the trail from the gun shop, to the restaurant where the plan was hatched, and finally to the spot where the King of Portugal was assassinated). Or to places long forgotten by the world, but not by the locals(an abandoned warehouse in Zagreb that once housed THE rock’n’roll club to play in in order to be noticed).
So the next time you see someone wandering around aimlessly (or so it seems) with a phone/GPS in their hands, know that they’re probably in the process of their own mini Indiana Jones adventure. Using multi-billion dollar government satellites to find tupperware hidden in the woods…
Corey Waldner is currently on a 15 or 16 month backpacking trip around the world. A self professed geek, he has found over 400 geocaches in his life, more than half of which being found on this trip alone. He writes about his geocaching adventures at Where’s Waldner. You can also catch him on Facebook & Twitter.
Photo Credit for Featured Image: Room 1455