Photo: Geocaching – all you need is a GPS and an adventurous spirit!
Calling all travel geeks!!!!! There’s a treasure out there that is waiting to be found all over the world and all you need is a GPS and an adventurous spirit.
I am traveling with a small group through the Yunnan province in China. The group is made up of an Australian, a German, and a couple of Canadians – plus my sister and me rounding out the international map. The couple from Canada has introduced us to a new traveling past-time – Geocaching – www.geocaching.com The tagline for the website is “The sport where YOU are the search engine”…very clever.
Armed with a GPS unit – you can locate geocaches all over the world – a treasure hunt of sorts. The ‘treasure’ is called cache (pronounced cash, but it’s not greenbacks). Instead the cache is simply a little notebook and pencil (to write a message), maybe a little trinket from the area, and normally a geocoin. A geocoin is a metal or wood token used in geocaching. Geocoins can be a signature item used by geocachers, left in geocaches to be found by others, kept as trophies or traded. Geocoins are often minted with the name of their state or country of origin, a given geocacher’s name or handle, or anything else. They can be either trackable on the internet (you can see the history of where it’s been and who has it) or untrackable. Trackable Geocaching.com geocoins are imprinted with unique codes and tracked via the geocaching.com website. So I guess if you can’t find time to get away from your job and travel, then you can send your coin to do it for you! See – I told you that this was a bit geekish…but I have to admit – it’s fun!
The process is rather simple – you enter the name of a city or a country on the website to determine if there are any geocache’s in that area. You get the coordinates of the geocache on the website, get some additional clues from the website, turn on your GPS unit and start hunting. When and if you find the cache, the rule of thumb is that ‘if you take an item, leave an item and write in the logbook’.
While traveling through Yunnan Bruce and Margaret, the Canadians, were looking for a geocache. Out of curiosity, Cyndi and I decided to join them, along with our guide Jonathon who also served as our group translator. We walked through the streets of the town at night with our GPS unit and flashlights hunting for the cache. Granted – no one (except for the Canadians) really had any idea what the cache even looked like, except for the fact that it was usually in a small Tupperware container. They had an additional clue that they got off the internet indicating the cache was guarded by water dragons on someone’s personal property and you would need to reach high to get it. Hurray – it looked like we would be trespassing to find the cache…hopefully Jonathon would be able to talk our way out of any trouble that we found ourselves in.
We followed the cache coordinates to within 19 meters that first night – but we had to give up due to the lack of light and the fact that it appeared we would need to go through someone’s yard or house to get it and thought that may be a better idea to do during the daylight. I don’t think it would be good to spend the night in a Chinese jail.
We went back the next day – excited to try to find the treasure. We all decided that the clue about the water dragons could mean that it was one of the establishments (bar, shop, or restaurant) on the road we were on the previous night. Maybe it even had that in the name somehow. Sure enough we came across a bar that fit the description, the only problem was that it was 4PM and it wasn’t open yet. We took our chances and rang the bell and sure enough a young Chinese woman answered the door. Bruce and Jonathon explained that we were on a ‘scavenger hunt’ and a clue led us to their establishment. The GPS unit said that we were within 9 meters of the cache…it had to be the right place! The girl looked at the 5 of us and said “I’m the waitress here – but you can come in and look around.” As we walked into the place – I knew right away what I had walked into – a hash bar. This town was a backpacker town, and where-ever there are backpackers, there is hash. The place was littered with bottles of empty booze, newspapers, chips, lighters, and a layer of dust that was beyond disturbing. The owner came out and introduced himself and once again we tried to explain why we were there. He said – in complete stoner fashion – “Sure – ahhhhh, look where-ever you want” and walked away in a haze. We combed his backyard, upstairs, bathroom, bar area, and any other corner that we were brave enough to look in. He in turn, just went about his business in his backyard as we walked all over his place peering into every crevice. I thought to myself – this guy must be completely baked to allow a bunch of strangers with a GPS to poke around his home like this! As people were scouring the establishment for the cache, I was looking at the décor in disbelief wondering who in their right mind could live like this?! In the bar area they had a wall mural with pictures and molds of caverns looking out onto the neon colored solar system. There were black lights, the couches had dirty blankets thrown over them to hide whatever hideousness lied beneath. There was also a big pit area with a projector. I felt like I had just stepped back in a time machine to my college days – peering into a dirty fraternity house after a weekend party. Oh….I could just imagine the typical night here watching Rocky Horror Picture Show and smoking.
Photo: Bruce (right), Jonathan, and the owner opening the cache
Just as we were about to give up and walk away – Bruce found the Tupperware cache! We all gathered around it as it was opened up – even the owner came out of his smoky haze to join us. I’m absolutely sure that he thought that we had uncovered a real buried treasure in his home. I personally expected to find a freshly rolled joint in the Tupperware cache with a lighter…but unfortunately it contained a small notepad, and a geocoin. Bruce and Margaret logged in the book, and took the cache coin and put in some new ‘goodies’ for the next person to find. We thanked the owner profusely and went away with a sense of accomplishment promising him we’d be back for a drink when he opened later that night.
We wandered back after dinner and the bar was transformed into a functioning place instead of a pig pen – I was rather impressed. However –I do always believe that there’s a reason why bars are darkly lit – you really don’t want to see them in the daylight – else you will just be disappointed and mainly grossed out. The darker bar lighting was definitely an improvement for this place! We ordered some beer and celebrated a successful cache hunt under the blacklight and glowing planets on the wall.
Tags: China, GPS, Human Interest, Travel, Yunnan China