When my family and I arrived in Oman in 2018, the Omani mountains seemed to be the perfect place to satiate our appetites for adventure. We found it fascinating that every other car seemed to be a 4×4 with a roof rack and car shade. Over the years, we’ve taken every opportunity to explore as much of the country as possible. That’s how we stumbled across geocaching. I was planning out yet another escapade when the perfect natural treasure hunt popped up in my search results, aka geocaching.
Intrigued by the idea, we downloaded the app and followed the online instructions. Geocaches are usually small containers hidden in various locations around the world, marked by GPS coordinates. The treasure hunters, or geocachers, use smartphone apps to locate these hidden bits of bounty. The caches contain a logbook for finders to sign, and sometimes, small trinkets to trade. You can take an item out of the cache but you must replace it with another.
Intrigued, we decided to give geocaching a try. We downloaded the app and, since we live in Muscat, we looked up caches in the city first. You’d be surprised at the unassuming places geocaches are hidden: We’ve peeked behind light poles, inspected nooks and crannies in ruins while hoping no one noticed, and scraped and pricked little hands while poking around bushes. Fortunately, the secrecy and the thrill of the hunt has kept us going.
Eventually, we flexed our treasure-hunting muscles and decided to take ourselves to new heights—quite literally. We had been to Jabal Akhdar plenty of times before we started geocaching; this new hobby simply added another dimension to the entire experience.
Armed with smartphones, we started off with what we thought was the easiest geocache. The first cache on our list was only a short trek into the rocky terrain, slightly beyond the exit for Mawawil cave, past the official-looking farm. We parked our car as near the GPS coordinates as possible and scoured the shrubbery for our precious prize.
I think our son reset the app a dozen times, while our three girls crawled around on hands and knees randomly squealing in delight, thinking they’d found the spot, or in fear of some curious little creature buzzing around their heads. A few false alarms later, I used my motherly superpower of finding things no one else can, to find the little container nestled discreetly between the rocks they weren’t looking at.
We entered our data in the logbook, traded a pen for a Darth Vader keychain, and felt ready to take on a bigger challenge. Our next geocache was called the Dali Tree for which we had to offroad much further into the mountain wilderness, boldly going where no family had gone before, as Captain Kirk from Star Trek might say.
If Salvador Dali had ever imagined a tree, it would look just like this tree in Jabal Akhdar. Unfortunately, it’s perched on a hillside up a steep incline. One thing I’ve learned since moving to Oman is that Omani goats and my children are far better climbers than me. I’m not sure how many times I stopped to catch my breath. My husband and I kept the smartphones with us; I didn’t want to miss out on finding the geocache just because I was out of shape.
The intricate web of crooked roots and branches made the perfect hiding place. We looked under each twisted tuber and examined every braided branch. We found a few bits of broken tupperware and plenty of bottle caps, but no geocache. By the end of an hour, I’d drained most of my mom-power; my children had wandered off to play with twigs and my husband had found a boulder to observe me from.
Sadly, we couldn’t find the cache but instead enjoyed watching the clouds drift over the mountains, the goats climb down the hillside, and butterflies flutter around the Dali tree. This hilltop view was enough of a treasure.
We haven’t stopped exploring or geocaching, and hope that more people will join the geocaching community, discovering the joy of exploration and the thrill of uncovering hidden treasures in the most unexpected places. If you’d like to get started with geocaching, there are a few different apps to choose from. Our favorites are Geocaching and GeoCaches. While the rest of Oman downloads the apps, I think my family and I need to get busy uploading new caches. Should it be an urban adventure or mountain maize? After all, if we have more people, we ought to have more treasure to find.
Saharish Arshad is a published children’s author and freelance writer, a coffee lover who can’t have caffeine, and a research junkie who loves exploring. You can read more of her work at www.saharisharshad.com.