Wednesday, September 3, 2014

My short unsuccessful career as a geocacher

I bought a handheld Garmin GPS unit back in the late 90's when I was still living in Austin, TX. I was making a lot of business trips to Silicon Valley, and I wanted something for making the drive from San Jose to San Francisco a little more interesting, as well as being able to try my hand at geocaching. At the time, there was only one cache in Austin, over in the Hill Country, and I tried looking for that. Unfortunately, this was back when the military still had a block on the accuracy of civilian GPS receivers, so the things were only accurate to maybe 20 feet. As soon as I got into the trees, the GPS would go crazy and I never did find that cache. A little later, the software on the thing crashed and it never recovered, even with a reset and changing out the batteries.

I want to try again, but now most GPSing is via smartphones loaded with Google maps, and I can't justify the $70/month fee for a 2-year phone contract. Smartphones are phasing out dedicated GPS handhelds, but Garmin is still churning them out. Their eTrex 10 comes as part of a Geocach bundle for $120. I went to the outdoors store in Maruya Gardens, and all they have are the higher-end eTrex, at $400, $600, and $900 (USD). If they had the eTrex 10 at the U.S. price, I'd consider getting it. The second outdoors store in the Tenpara cinema building does have the eTrex 10, but they're charging $200 for it, and the software bundle comes separately for another $170. I think I'll wait.

Anyway, I was trying to find a work-around. My small pocket camera has GPS-stamping for the photos, but for some reason it keeps saying that it can't find a signal. The bigger camera doesn't have GPS built-in, nor does my regular cell phone. I was thinking that I was completely out of luck, then I remembered Google Maps.

(Saigo statue.)

Google Earth View superimposes street names over the satellite views, and you can enter GPS coordinates directly to search on. Zooming in at least gives you a rough idea where to look, and that's better than nothing. Garmin's Opencaching site doesn't show any caches in Kagoshima. shows several caches within a couple miles of my apartment, but 2 have been retired, and 2 are on Sakurajima (one is an Earth cache, which may be a good thing).

The Okubo Toshimichi cache would be halfway between my apartment and the main train station. It was retired because people complained of not being able to find it. I'm assuming that the author removed the cache itself as part of the retirement. The Kagoshima-chuo Station cache was retired because of construction at the main train station that destroyed the cache location. This leaves Saigo Takamori and Roof Garden.

The Saigo statue is next to Central Park and Houzan Hall (a concert hall and planetarium). If you zoom in on Google Earth View, the little arrow lands on a maintenance stairwell that goes below the sidewalk next to the street. I circled everything in the area (the phonebooth, bus stops, parking garage, and the Saigo statue grounds) with no luck. I checked the air vents around the stairwell, and tried looking under the bushes in the landscaped areas. Nothing. I kept coming back to the stairwell - it's not something that I felt comfortable entering, with all of the people in the area watching. But there's this one bag hanging on the inner wall that looks really suspicious. The thing is, the rules are that if a cache is on private land or in a park, you need to get permission before creating the cache. That, and this cache is over 2 years old. If that bag is the cache, the guy that put it there must have talked to the city first, or it would have been found and destroyed. But, still...

If you're not familiar with Geocaching, the idea is that someone takes a Tupperware container, Army ammo box, or other weather-resistant box, and hides it somewhere, putting the GPS coordinates on the internet for other people to search on. At a minimum, the container will have a notebook for people to log their name in. It can also have trinkets (coins, toys, music CDs) that people can take as a souvenir (they have to put in something of equal or greater value in return). The site includes info on the cache size, and the Saigo cache is labelled "micro" - just large enough to hold a notebook. I guess that bag is the right size. But, still...

Roof Garden is on the roof of Maruya Gardens, on the 7th floor. The hint is "stairs". I've looked around the stairs several times with no luck. The stairs themselves are closed off, and I can't find anything cache-like under them, unless it's been put in the plastic storage case. It's a micro cache, and it's over 2 years old. It could have been moved by maintenance staff, but I don't want to take the risk of opening the storage case if someone can see me doing it.

So, so far I'm 0-4.

The one regular cache on Sakurajima is about halfway up the volcano to the observation center. That's kind of a day trip (4 hours round trip, maybe). I may try looking for it the next time I feel like trudging up there (if the wind is blowing the ash away from Kagoshima...)

An Earth cache is actually just a virtual cache. The creator picks a geologically interesting location. You visit the coordinates, and fulfill the cache requirements by posting a picture of yourself at the right place, plus answering a couple questions that prove you read the information markers there. The Sakurajima Earth cache is next to the visitors center, near the ferry port. This one I can do. No problems with this one. So, maybe I can get 1-6. I can dream.

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