It was this morning in the car on the way to the downtown Buffalo bus station that I said the word ‘geocaching’ to my sister. She recoiled in horror, but admitted grudgingly that I hadn’t used the word in over 2 weeks, which is probably the longest I have gone silent on the subject in the 11 months since I’ve been introduced to this hobby/activity/sport/obsession.
To the amazement and incomprehension of many, geocaching has become an integral part of my life since then, and as I’m sure I won’t be able to go long blogging without mentioning it, I feel you deserve an explanation of the temporary bouts of insanity geocaching brings out in me.
Because I don’t think there is any other word than insanity to describe the cold June evening I spent by the harbor in Buenos Aires, groping under a bench right across from a historic ship and right under the watchful eyes of a Policia Federal, all the while accompanied by no one else than my boss (considering that during the same business trip he put up with that and the fact that I managed to spill a glass of very red wine on his favorite cashmere sweater as we ate a last supper in a parilla or traditional grill, I have to admit the man has the patience of an angel).
Nor is it completely normal to:
-walk through Fatima solving riddles
-search in the sidewalk for a film canister across from FC Porto stadium as fans spill out after a victory
-jump into the lake in Annecy (in white pants, I may add) to recover a jar that is floating away from you
-stick your hand multiple times in multiple cities into holes in stone walls where mice (or worse, rats) and other creatures may and often do dwell
-go combing through bushes along the Rhone river in complete darkness with nothing other than the light from a bicycle, powered by pedals pushed by the hands of an also-crazy fellow geocacher and friend.
Nor is it particularly wise to stalk through woods (OK, wooded parks) on cold November nights, accompanied only by another crazy geocaching convert who doesn’t have a sense of direction, or a GPS, or to stop to tie your shoe by the fire hydrant on a particularly busy sidewalk in the middle of the city and stealthily reach beneath the grate under your shoe, hoping to discover a magnet.
Dear friends, these are all thing I have done in the name of geocaching, and this list is in no way near conclusive.
So what exactly is geocaching? Very simply, it’s a never-ending scavenger hunt which you can take part in any place, any time. Caches are small boxes/film canisters/microscopic magnets which can be hidden anywhere – you find them, write your name + date and short message in them, put a few items in for exchange if you so wish, and then go on. The caches are listed on www.geocaching.com, which is where you set up a profile. That’s actually your starting point – you go there before any expedition, look at the hints (and sometimes spoilers) of caches, figure out their location on a map, and go on your merry hunt. You’re actually supposed to play the game with your GPS, getting exact coordinates for the caches, but where’s the fun if you have the exact location of the treasure pinned down?
Yes, it’s all free, no, it’s not dangerous (although sometimes you can get odd looks from people who think you are dealing in illegal substances) and it’s for people of all ages. Since first being
converted introduced to the whole concept while visiting a friend in Dublin, I’ve looked for (and found) caches in London, Paris, Fatima, Lyon, Warsaw, Bolzano, Montpellier, Geneva, Buenos Aires, and the suburbs of Buffalo. I have a preference for caches in cities, because the suburban ones – drive up in your car and take the cache out from a newspaper box? Really? – don’t seem to be that exciting, or are impossible to find without a GPS (ask my unlucky family who have trudged with me in 3 foot snow in the woods around our home).
People have asked me why bother to actually find the things when you can just pretend you did and log it. That’s missing the point though – all of the fun is in the search, and the incredible places you wouldn’t have discovered otherwise. For me, this has been: a student dorm in an old military fort on one of the hills in Lyon, the stunningly wild ecological reserve by the business district in Buenos Aires, or the tribune in front of the Palace of Culture in Warsaw where a few decades ago, party leaders stood and vaunted the benefits of socialism or received military salutes (I passed by there for years without even realizing that it was a tribune, and only from the geocaching page did I learn all about its history).
All of this to say, before you write me off as crazy or roll your eyes when I suggest we go dig under a log, try it at least once – as corny as it may sound, I’m convinced all of us have an explorer lurking within.