Geocaching Czechs

(No, I will not apologize for the punny title. I have to live my truth.)

While life has largely returned to an approximation of normal here in the Czech Republic, it's still wise to observe some social distance when you're out and about enjoying the Czech spring. Fortunately, Czechs have a solution for that.

In addition to their fondness for ice cream--which I'll get to one of these days--Czechs are also surprisingly into geocaching. Well, I say surprisingly, but, given the Czech propensity for hiking and games (another aspect I'll get to some day), it's not really surprising at all.

No, it's not drugs.

If you're unfamiliar, geocaching is an hobby involving using GPS coordinates or an app to find hidden items--"caches"--in the everyday environment. For those, like myself, who get a kick out of geocaching, that everyday environment part is key. While I'm sure the treasure hunt aspects of geocaching would still be fun even if it were carried out in an enclosed space, it's the "finding something hidden in the real world" aspect that, I think, really appeals to geocaching enthusiasts. It started in 2000 in the US, which still has the most caches, but has since spread to nearly every country in the world--only North Korea is left out of the fun.

While what are called "traditional" geocahces--where there's actually something physical hidden at the location--are still common, there are also virtual caches (where you take a picture of something) and mystery caches (where location 1 leads to location 2 somehow, etc, etc.), among other types. Usually, once a cache is found, the geocacher either signs the logbook inside the cache or logs it virtually using one of the main apps. Occasionally there are actual items to be taken or left, but they're never of great monetary value. Sometimes there's history to be learned by reading about the location, or a greater sense of the environment, but usually, the joy is in the finding and in knowing something that non-cachers--called "muggles" in a nod to Harry Potter--don't.

While it's quite difficult to find out exactly how many Czechs go geocaching on a regular or even semi-regular basis, there's a strong amount of circumstantial evidence to suggest that the answer is "a lot."

Interestingly, the most found geocache in the world is right here in Prague. As is, according to my best information, the previously most found geocache in the world.

The current #1; the old #1.

The most found cache in the world is actually on Charles Bridge and has been found at least 30,000 times. It's a traditional cache, and while I won't spoil it, it was pretty gratifying to find, and not really difficult at all. The former number one cache, called "Terezka," is near a fountain in the Old Town. It's also a pretty traditional style cache, and not hard to find. I won't spoil it by saying anything more, but I believe my comment in the virtual log after I found it was "spider."

Moreover, there are far more caches hidden in the Czech Republic than one might expect. For example, here is a map of the caches in Prague:

It night be easier to mark that spots that *aren't* caches.

There are about 60,000 active caches in the Czech Republic, placing it in the top ten most "cached" countries in the world, which is not bad for a country 86th in the world in population, and 118th in size. Moreover, caches are everywhere. There are at least a dozen within a short walk from my flat, which isn't close to anything and where no tourists ever go. These caches are for Czechs and by Czechs, with most of the additional information about them posted in Czech.

Aside from the cache on Charles Bridge, my favorite so far was possibly a virtual cache in the Old Town that connected Prague to Star Wars.

The Darth Vader of Prague

Now, there's no actual evidence, as far as I can tell, that this statue of a black-armored knight in a cloak inspired George Lucas. However, the legend behind that satue is an interesting one. As the story goes, a medieval knight, in beaten and battered black iron armor, found his way to the blacksmith district in Prague--Platnéřská street, near where the statue stands now--to have some repairs done. The blacksmith had a daughter, and the knight wanted to marry her. She refused, and in a jealous rage, he killed her. Tale as old as time, that. As she breathed her last, the young woman cursed the knight, who turned to stone. Once a century, the knight has a chance to be released from his curse, but only if he can be forgiven by a young woman like the one he murdered. What's more, the story goes that, the last time the knight appeared, he found a young girl who told him to come back the next day. However, she was frightened, so she told her mother, who was waiting for the knight when he returned. The knight, finding a married woman with children awaiting him instead of a young maiden, vanished, and had to wait another century for his next chance of pardon.

As with any folk legend, the story varies from telling to telling. In some versions of the story, the knight has a name--Jáchym Berka--and an exact era--the reign of John of Luxembourg (1310-1346), father of Charles IV. Moreover, they say that Berka was known as the Iron Knight due to his distinctive armor, and that he was engaged to the blacksmith's daughter. In this version, upon hearing (false) rumors that she had been unfaithful while he was away on campaign, he murdered her. The rest of the story--curse, 100 years, mother--pretty much follows the original.

What does any of this have to do with geocaching, you ask? Well, I only know about this story *because* someone thought, "Hey, this would make a great cache." And they were right. With this summer looking to be less full of international travel than I had hoped, I look forward to making a dent in those 60,000 active caches and learning lots of cool stories along the way.

If you want to join me on the official geocaching app--conveniently called Geocaching--my screen name is sjcaustenite.

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