When I was a child in the UK my father used to organize adventure birthday parties for my brother and I. He would invite several of our friends and we’d have a picnic BBQ on a local hill and he would write out clues and we’d have a treasure hunt. Usually it would finish at a hollow tree stump or in a pile of rocks where we’d find an old tin trunk full of chocolate bars! As a Boy Scout in my early teens we would go on “paper (or flour) trails” where we’d have to cover a certain distance by following a trail of piles of cooking flour or paper flags hanging from tree branches and there would be a prize at the end.
A popular activity in the USA is “Scavenger Hunts” where teams are given a list of items they have to find and bring back or tasks they have to complete. I’m pretty sure my obviously pregnant wife and I were one of these tasks a few weeks back for a group of young teenagers who came up to us in City Center Mall on a Friday evening in the food court and asked for a photo with us as: “an obvious example of a couple in love!” Activities like this are great for developing a young adults sense of adventure, enquiry and to give them practice at talking to people. If you think about how many hours children these days spend playing computer games and sitting in front of computers or televisions, they may also be learning to find out about things and how to solve puzzles etc but they are doing it sat down and often alone. Activities like Treasure trails and Scavenger Hunts can be done with groups of friends or as a family and they involve lots of physical activity and social interaction with all the accompanying health and social skills benefits.
So imagine my pleasure in September when my wife and I and our friend Jeff were given a surprise joint birthday treat in the form of a treasure hunt, organized by our friend Bryan Myers who is the Director of “The World is my Country Foundation”! The first we knew about it was when we received a telegram (by email!) telling us to meet at the Concorde Hotel Lobby at 10am on Friday the 13th where a Uniformed Hotel Porter approached us and handed us an envelope:
The clue we decided led us to Fujairah Marine Club where under the spotlight that brings all the fish to the surface to feed at night we found a plastic bottle floating and tied to the fence with a string, we pulled it in for the next clue:
Hot on the trail we drove to Fujairah Fort and here we found a clue in an alcove in the surrounding wall (it involved parking and then walking the whole perimeter wall which is good exercise!):
The next two clues led us all over the Mountains behind the tennis club where at 12 midday in the blazing heat (with my pregnant wife waiting in the AC cooled car for us) Jeff and I picked up the next messages on the trail and a key (so we knew we’d have to open a lock at some point!):
Having already spent a good hour hiking in the mountains on the hunt we now headed over to Al Hayl Fort where we had to climb another hill above the fort to an old watchtower for a clue and then that one directed us back down into the Wadi to a natural pool where we not only picked up the next clue but also took the time to follow the instructions on the paper and bathe in the cold water:
Already several hours into the treasure hunt we headed out to the second tunnel on the Kalba – Dubai road and above the tunnel entrance there is an old Geo-Cache (Another form of treasure hunting you can do using a GPS check it out at www.geocaching.com). The clue told us to look for a “Guardian of the treasure” and sure enough we soon found “Omar the Camel” guarding the site of the next clue:
The final clue on our trail gave us the tools we would need to dig up our buried treasure and also told us that the GPS coordinates for the burial site were hidden in the previous clues (luckily we had kept them all!):
With our destination typed into the GPS and my wife calling out where to turn we quickly made our way to the beach at Fujairah and shovel in hand hurried out onto the hot sands. When we spotted a small mound of sand with a pirates flag on the top we knew we had found our destination and Nirjala dug up our treasure chest (full of food treats!) and our Birthday message from Bryan:
The whole day was carefully organized and coordinated by our friend and he went to a lot of trouble to make it really interesting and not too easy but the overall concept isn’t too hard to replicate and follows a set pattern:
Give the team or teams an objective (find the treasure) and a story – “you are a team of international treasure hunters in a race to find a secret code…..” (be creative)
Provide them with a series of clues where each one leads you to the next in series
Make sure the clues are easily understandable but not necessarily that everyone in the team will know the answer – you can set specific clues that may appeal to certain people in the team, for example Bryan used clues for me that were related to a TV program we both watched when we were kids and other clues for Jeff that were related to geo-caching days they had done together. You can think of family favorite places you have all been together or in jokes you may have with friends.
Make it interesting and exciting – if it involves too much walking in the sun or too many of the same types of clues or puzzles then people may lose interest. You can involve other people along the route by going in advance and briefing people (like staff at cultural attractions) to approach the team with clues (like the Concorde Hotel Porter did for us) or people that the team will need to approach and ask questions. You can use this as a chance to practice languages or to advance the teams knowledge in specific areas like “Go up to a Zoo Keeper and ask how many Sunbird species there are in the UAE” – the number in the answer can be one of the numbers of a combination lock on the final treasure chest (the answer is 1 – the “Purple Sunbird” in case you were wondering!)
Make sure it is safe for the team and that you have a backup plan if they can’t find a clue. On one of our checkpoints we couldn’t find the clue so we texted Bryan and he SMS’d us a photo of the area the clue was hidden in.
Transport – if the team members are young you might want to run the whole hunt in a small area they can walk in but if you want to go further afield then you can have an adult drive them but under strict instructions not to help them in any way!
Make sure that at the end there is something really exciting that makes the whole event worthwhile; A BBQ picnic and a treasure chest of chocolate coins (perhaps use a cold box in the summer as the treasure chest!)
In the end you can put as much planning and preparations into the event as you want to. You can go out in advance to set it all up and create characters for everyone to play (like a murder mystery weekend) the key to making it a success is to make it enjoyable for everyone! The treasure hunt that Bryan organized for us was adventurous and appealed to different aspects of our friendship and everyone secretly wants to be a child again so for us on this one day we had that chance too which is honestly the best Birthday present we could have had!
(You can check out the work and plans for a World Adventure Race of Bryans Foundation by going to Facebook: www.facebook.com/pages/The-World-Is-My-Country-Foundation please “like” his page whilst you’re there)