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Modern Day Treasure Hunting

Text by: Kerstin Engelhart

I'm not one to judge the youth of today and say they have become lazy and do nothing other than watch TV and play video games. But if you could watch my nine-year-old cousin, Moritz being dragged along on a leisurely, Sunday stroll, you definitely wouldn't fault me for making that exact impression. Not only would he complain the entire time, but you would think he was being physically tortured by the sounds of pain, grunts and whines that would be coming out of his mouth. I know that he would much rather be at home playing some sort of electronic game, rather than being out in the fresh air and getting exercise.

There are times when he loves to be outdoors. It is when he has planned a trip to go geocaching. He knows he would be spending his time running around forests, climbing rocks and crawling into caves, something much more fun than a boring Sunday walk. Moritz knows a lot about geocaching so it never takes any bit of prodding to get him to go. He is a wealth of information on the topic, so when I wanted to find out more, he was the first person I turned to.

He has tried to talk me into going many times, telling me with beaming eyes how much fun they have (as well as mocking me, because at first I kept referring to it as "geocatching"), so I finally decided to join in on the fun.

What is geocaching, you ask? Geocaching is a modern, real-world, outdoor treasure hunting game. You hunt for a hidden cache (i.e., container) by using GPS-enabled devices.

The first thing to do when geocaching is to decide on a cache you want to find. Currently, caches are placed in more than 100 countries around the world, on all seven continents (even on the Antartica). Random people hide caches and then publish the geographical coordinates of their whereabouts on various websites.

Earlier, Moritz had told me that geocaching was great because you spend a lot of time in nature (yes, this coming from a child that was annoyed for being made to walk up yet another hill during our Sunday stroll). My uncle agreed saying that a lot of caches were hidden in forests, but that there were also caches in towns and villages. He added that caches are often hidden in places that aren't tourist attractions, so you get to see more than the common tourist, such as sites, rather than crowded streets of people.

So, once we decided on a cache in a small town, we were off on our adventure.

We met at a beautiful church in Rohr, Germany. "We're doing a multi-cache!" Moritz exclaimed. Then he explained that with a "multi-cache," you only get the first coordinates, along with other sets of incomplete coordinates with a clue on how to find the second next set. In order to complete the sets, you have to solve puzzles that you write down when you are receiving the sets of coordinates. The person that hides the cache makes up the riddles and you'll find the answers along the way. Very often the answer to complete your next coordinate might only be found on a sign with numbers on it (for example a road sign), or a sign with a little bit of information.

© Felicity Maria Photography

So, we started off by entering the first coordinates (N 48° 43.001' ; E 9° 06.302') into our GPS device and started our walk to the destination point. Once there, we needed to solve the first clue. We already had the coordinates: N 48° 43. A * 2 - 6' ; E 9° 06.308 + A', but we needed to find the number that represented "A."

Our clue was that we had to find the answer to the following question: "At what age did Martin Sandtberger die?". Luckily, we found an information panel at the first given destination, which gave some information on Martin Sandtberger, including the age when he died. I was having so much fun. Not only had we found the next set of coordinates, we also learned something about a person I had never heard of before.

Once we were able to complete the next set of coordinates because of our new information, we entered them into our GPS device and started our walk in the given direction.

"The good thing about geocaching is," my uncle explained to me, "that you can do it wherever, whenever, and as long as you want to. You can do it on your own, in groups, and of course with children. Because there are different kind of caches, different kind of people enjoy geocaching as well."

Moritz also began explaining to me that there were many different types of caches. "There are 'traditional caches,' which mean you can just hike to one hidden cache. But there are also 'mystery caches' where you need to solve puzzles at home in order to get your coordinates. There are also 'Earth caches' where the cacher has to perform a task that teaches something about Earth science in the cache area. And then there are 'event caches' when you receive the time and exact coordinates to meet other geocachers at the cache…"

He then shouted, "Hey look!" He pointed at a house. Someone had painted several pictures of talismans on the wall of the house, which we knew was part of our next clue-- "How many talismans are on wall of the house?" My cousin quickly counted them and got the number to be entered in the missing part of our next coordinates. Again we put them into the GPS device and continued.

Meanwhile, my cousin warned me about the dangerous "Muggles." Very much like in the wizardry world, Muggles are people that aren't aware. With geocaching, they aren't aware of the game — thus they wouldn't know what a cache is. All they would see is nothing but a box out in nature filled with stuff. The threat is that the Muggles would take it or misplace it. An unfortunate geocacher will therefore find nothing.

Luckily for us, our next cache would take a lot more than misplacing to destroy our fun. We just needed to find a certain house and count its windows. That was easy. "5."

A few minutes later, we were onto the next cache.

"Who hides the caches?" I asked. I was told that anyone can. You need to find a hiding place, note its geographical coordinates, and send them to one of the websites with a short explanation. But the websites are coordinated by volunteers who make sure the cache actually exists before allowing someone to publish its whereabouts.

© Felicity Maria Photography

I also learned a few other rules about geocaching. Not only does a person need permission to hide a cache on private property, but when you hide a cache you are not allowed damage nature or its surroundings. Therefore you cannot bury a cache. You can, for example, hide it next to a tree, in a stump, an old abandoned house or a cave, but not inside or underground. "You're also not allowed to hide them in busy places like train stations because a small box lying around in a station might be mistaken as a bomb," my cousin said.

We turned down the street, and this time I was the first to see the answer to the next clue: Who guards this beautiful house? a) dog C = 3, b) rooster) C = 4 or c) cat C = 5. A cat was engraved into a mural on the house, so our answer was the number "5." For the last time, we put the coordinates into the GPS device and set off to find our cache.

A few minutes later we found a small park. Moritz shouted to us while running over the grass and checking different trees and big rocks, "Okay, somewhere in this park, the cache is hidden! This is the most exciting and the best part about geocaching — will we find the cache, and what will it be?"

What were we looking for? The cache is always in a waterproof container. Inside you will usually find a logbook with a pen or pencil, and sometimes a small treasure. The cacher will sign the logbook stating that he has found the cache and add the date and time of the find. The treasure inside may be a small object which you can take home with you as a trophy. Of course you need to replace something in the container in exchange, so the next cacher will also be able to find a treasure. If you exchange the treasure, make sure that it is nothing illegal (Pornography isn't allowed as there are many children cachers) and don't hide anything edible (Animals have a very good sense of smell.). Some other treasures inside may also include "Travel Bugs" or "Geocoins," which are comparable to dog tags. They are usually stamped with a tracking number and the Geocaching.com website address. You're allowed to take it with you, register the place of its whereabouts on the website, and hide it again at another cache location.

We couldn't find our cache right away and were actually looking for quite some time. To be honest, I already feared a Muggle had destroyed my first time as a geocacher. But then finally — I heard a triumphant yell, and I knew that we had found the cache.

We opened the container, all signed the logbook, took out a foreign coin, and put back a small figurine. It felt good to have found it. My cousin was right — geocaching was fun! It definitely won't be the last cache I will be looking for. I'm a treasure hunter now.

Oh, and I won't tell you where the geocache was hidden. Why don't you go and hunt yourself? You can find more information, especially geographical coordinates, on these websites: