What exactly is geocaching and why it could become your new hobby
Time Out Bahrain staff
Looking into lots of things to do on the island, we came across geocaching and we were so excited we had to tell you all about it.
So, what is geocaching? It’s basically a high-tech treasure hunt with more than a million caches, or pieces of treasure, hidden all over the world.
To get involved you simply need to become a member of geocaching.com (it’s free) then pick the GPS co-ordinates of a geocache you fancy, enter them into your GPS device or GPS-enabled phone and off you go.
Once you find the hidden treasure, or geocache, you sign into the logbook (which is apparently included in the site) and then replace the cache for the next seeker to find. If you take something from the cache then you must replace it with something of equal value to ensure there is always something worth looking for.
According the website it’s a game for adventure seekers which encourages players to get outside, explore their locations and enjoy the journey or the search.
July sees the tenth anniversary of geocaching in Bahrain marking the date when Saudi geocacher Mohammed Al-Faris placed the kingdom’s first hidden treasure near Riffa Fort.
Since then the hobby has gone from strength to strength and most weekends you will find people out across the island seeking hidden goodies.
American Lynn Storton has been on the island around six months and has already visited places that we’d never even heard of until he told us about them – and we know Bahrain pretty well!
He explained: “About ten years ago I was in an electronics store looking at GPS devices. The clerk asks ‘what are you going to use it for?’. ‘Mostly hiking,’ I replied. ‘Any geocaching?’ he inquired. Curiously I asked ‘What’s that?’ “I heard a mumbeld ‘never mind’ as he turned away to ring up the transaction.
“I went home and looked it up on the Internet and it’s been my main hobby ever since.” Though the activity was started here by a Saudi, Lynn says it’s not that popular with locals drawing more from the European and North American communities.
However, one Bahraini who does take part is Khalid Al-Bahi who said: “This is our second year. I was reading a book called This book made me do it and found this paragraph: ‘If you enjoy a treasure hunt, you’ll like geocaching. It’s an organised activity using a GPS device to seek out “caches” – things hidden by other players around the world and can be combined with a hike or a camping trip. Find out more online.’
“We did a search to get an idea and were surprised that we had about 30 to 40 geocaches in Bahrain at that time! So we decided to give it a try and since then we became active members of the geocaching community.”
Geocaching is a very popular family activity that all ages can get involved in and it’s great for helping parents and kids connect. You might spot Lynn and family, affectionately known as the Moose Mob, out in the desert or carrying out an intimate examination of a piece of street art such as the topiary figures in Um Al Hassam up the road from the British Club – it’s important to remember the GPS location will only get you to the vicinity of the hidden treasure, once there, it’s up to you to find it.
Lynn said: “I’ve been on the island for nearly six months now. So far I’ve been to roadside art here in the city, public un-crowded beaches, the Tree of Life, burial mounds in Hammad Town, the oil museum and first oil well in the Arabian peninsula and on the short list is the highest peak in Bahrain. There are more places to visit when I can, but much is private or military and the public cannot go there.”
Khalid added: “We go to historical and natural places. If you think this place deserves a visit, it deserves a geocache!”
Recently the pair and friends rented kayaks for the weekend and paddled out to Al Ajur island and Sheikh Isa Island where there’s a shrine and lots of bird life.
There’s an active geocaching community in Saudi Arabia too and members of the two frequently meet up and mix.
Lynn explained: “We talk online frequently. Across the globe there are large events that attract thousands of other geocachers from around the world. While some geocachers will load their GPS and just try to find geocaches in countries they visit, many of us will look for geocachers in the area and reach out for assistance or advice.” So it also provides an opportunity to meet local residents wherever you happen to be.
And it seems that, though the activity/game/hobby, call it what you will, appeals mainly to people with time on their hands, a love of the outdoors and a sense of adventure, the attraction is different for everyone. Lynn says: “It gets you out of the house and out into the world. You can take whatever you want from it, whether it is about history, geology, hiking/biking or just exploring the area. There are geocaches that require multiple-day backpacking trips and 4x4 adventures.
“A couple ofyears ago I was at a geocaching event in Las Vegas. I met a man who was relatively new to geocaching. He told me ‘I’ve been living here since I was 14, now I am 66 years old. I thought I knew this town inside out and backwards. I’ve learned more about this city in the past six months than I never knew existed. I learned more in six months than I did in the 50-plus years before.’”
While Khalid says: “Because of the nature of the activity, geocachers usually play independently. However like many other activities, there is a whole community behind it – forums, Facebook groups, gathering events etc. We’ve been to events in Qatar and the UAE and many geocachers in the area are coming from different origins.
“The best part about geocaching is the planning and preparation. We have to plan our trip from A to Z. Where to go, which caches to go for, what equipment do we need, when is the best time, who’s going join, etc. Another benefit from geocaching is that when we travel, it takes us to amazing places we would never know about otherwise.
Fancy yourself as a treasure hunter? There are only a few geoching website sites. About 99 per cent of the geocaches in the world are listed on www.geocaching.com. Find out more and meet other seekers on the local Facebook page Bahrain Geocachers. Other sites include Opencaching.us and Terracaching.com but neither of thes have any geocaches listed in Bahrain so they’re more for it you’re travelling.