From geocaching to metal detecting, meet UAE residents with unusual hobbies

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By Anu Prabhakar

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The metal detective

Published: Mon 25 Dec 2023, 7:04 PM

Last updated: Tue 26 Dec 2023, 9:26 AM

Hasan Zaheer describes himself as a logical man. He’s also spent more than Dh2,000 on metal detecting equipment, for fun’s sake. At first this might sound contradictory to each other, but as the 34-year-old delves into fascinating details of his hobby, it makes perfect sense.

In 2018, the Abu Dhabi-based engineer stumbled on a few YouTube videos on metal detecting and he found them so inspiring that he decided to get a metal detector. It didn’t have a promising start, though — when in Dubai, he would head to Jumeirah and Sufouh beach with his metal detector, but would only unearth a few coins and an overwhelming amount of trash. “But I always throw the trash in the dustbin because I know if I don't, I will be picking it up again soon,” he says. A lack of time stopped Hasan from actively pursuing the hobby and he abandoned it temporarily.

A social media post would, soon, reignite his interest. “I wasn’t sure about the rules of metal detecting in the UAE so I posted a query on Reddit in 2021,” he recalls. “Coincidentally, a man who had lost his ring at JBR beach saw my post and messaged me privately, asking whether I could help him as the ring was very important to him.” So, Hasan drove down to Dubai on the weekend and spent about two hours searching for the elusive ring. They did find it, finally, and he posted a picture of their beaming faces on Reddit. “That post went viral,” he says. “I thought, ‘This is my chance to do something different and special’.”

Since then, about 25 desperate owners of missing jewellery — mostly rings — have contacted him. “As long as it is outside the water, I am almost 100 per cent sure that we will find it,” he says. It’s a skill he has honed over the years by watching over ‘100 hours of YouTube videos’ and today, Hasan says he understands and reads his metal detectors better.

His impressive array of equipment includes three metal detectors and two pinpointers, which are particularly useful in sandy areas such as beaches. “I also have a very large scoop with a carbon fibre handle to dig out the sand, a shovel, a pouch to put my finds in, a rock tumbler and an ultrasonic cleaner to clean them.” All this is exactly as expensive as it sounds — the scoop and ultrasonic cleaner, for instance, set him back by more than Dh2,000. “It is an expensive, but fun, hobby,” he smiles. Hasan says he never asks people for anything in return for his services. “But sometimes they push and plead with me so much that I feel bad. At times I accept something, and at times I don’t — it really differs from person to person.”

It is also, in a way, a study on human behaviour. Having met and interacted with people who are, often, in a vulnerable state, Hasan observes that human beings are essentially ‘very sweet’ and that “they are actually nicer than what we perceive them to be”. “As an adult, most of our interactions are at work where people are not themselves — maybe because of stress - and they are not as nice as they want to be or actually are,” he elaborates.

Once, he helped a tourist from the UK retrieve two rings from a beach near Zero Gravity in Dubai and she almost cried with joy. But his most cherished moment was when he found a 25 paisa coin from his home country, Pakistan, while digging around for someone’s ring. “I had only seen it as a kid as it has been out of circulation since 1996. It’s my most prized find.”

Off on a scavenger hunt

On some weekends, Moneeb Khan can be found on a public bus, glued to his mobile phone. But unlike most 18-year-olds, it’s usually because he is out on a hunt.

Moneeb loves geocaching, which has been popularly described as a ‘high-tech treasure hunt’. Players log into geocaching apps and travel across neighbourhoods and, sometimes, emirates, in pursuit of hidden treasures called ‘geocaches’, using the GPS. Geocaches can be anything from chocolates, trinkets and toys to even unique notes and coins, which are stored in containers. The app only provides teasingly small tips and clues on the geocache’s exact location. “That’s when it begins to feel like a really cool scavenger hunt,” he says. Sometimes, Moneeb adds, there are pictures of where the geocache is but he only looks at them as a ‘last resort’.

The business management student discovered geocaching through YouTube, last year. “It was during the winter holidays and this gave me something new to do,” he says. Moneeb usually takes the public transport for his hunts, although it takes him a while to get to his destination. “There are many geocaches between Jumeirah and the Marina area, but I think most of them are in Abu Dhabi. I guess the geocaching community is bigger there.”

He found his first geocache near a bench close to Marina mall. “It wasn’t really planned. I was out on a photowalk with a few other photographers I’d hosted. After they left, I was like, ‘Since I am here, I might as well check this out’.”

“There were very few descriptions of the geocache on the app to work with, so it took a bit of digging,” he continues. “And it wasn’t easy because it was at such a public, crowded place.” After about an hour, he finally found the ‘treasure’ — a toy. “One of the etiquette rules of geocaching is that you either need to keep the geocache back or replace it with something that is of equal or more value. But I didn’t have anything on me that day, so I kept the toy back.” He did, however, log in details like his name and when he found the geocache, on the piece of paper that usually comes with these items.

Since then, he has discovered old coins, a 1,000,000 Turkish lira note, a box of treats and once, in a ‘weird encounter’, the dummy of a human skeleton ‘guarding’ a geocache near a park. “I was not expecting that,” he laughs. “Geocaches can be hidden anywhere — in holes, pipes, trees or can even be tied to something.”

“A lot of people in Dubai usually look for something new to do, for a break from the 9am to 5pm hustle,” he explains. “Geocaching encourages people to step out of their homes and discover new neighbourhoods.” For instance, Moneeb, who grew up in Dubai, once travelled to Al Barsha from Al Qusais on a public bus for the very first time. He even travelled to Abu Dhabi with a friend to look for a geocache, but certain parts of that trip ended up testing the limits of his love for geocaching. “I didn’t find the geocache and, on the way back, we got lost and somehow ended up at DP World, where we got into trouble with security. And we got back home really late.”

“Geocaching is a fun way to discover hidden treasures and it also gives you a reason to go out there and meet other people,” adds Moneeb.

Master of all games

Abdul Taiyyeb aka AT was introduced to board games by his cousin a few years ago, and he was instantly hooked. “He showed me how to play Settlers of Catan and I loved it because it reflects how you function in real life — your way of thinking, the way you negotiate and strategise.” Today, Abdul knows to play about 180 board games.

Thanks to a previous job at a board game cafe in Dubai, Abdul used to have access to all kinds of games, including those that are relatively unheard of and enjoyed by true addicts of the game. And once home, he often plays them. “There are strategy games like Power Grid and Terraforming Mars which can easily take over two hours to complete. Each round has multiple tasks, steps and stages which can make the game confusing, especially to beginners. There are other lesser known games too, like The Arrival, Arkham Horror, Wingspan and Love Letter,” he says. In Love Letter, ‘suitors’ compete to get their love letters across to a princess who has locked herself in. It’s a short game which sounds easy enough, but Abdul found the game the hardest to master. “It has 10 different cards and initially, I found it difficult to understand them. It is a game of bluffing and you have to survive till the end. But now, I love it.” His favourite board game, though, is Ticket to Ride. “You only need to get from Point A to Point B,” he explains. “There are a limited number of trains and you have to travel through your routes before you run out of them.”

Abdul currently lives in a bed space in Al Barsha, but the space crunch hasn’t stopped him from expanding his personal collection of classic board games. “I bought games like Marvel Mayhem, Camel Up, Battleship and Monopoly, but I had to keep them at my friend’s place because of space issues. I have also bought Ticket to Ride, Pandemic and 6 Nimmit for just Dh75 from a flea market,” he smiles.

Want to give it a go?

Element collecting

If you are a chemistry nerd who dreams of seeing the periodic table come alive, element collecting is a little-known but interesting hobby that’s worth pursuing. Element collectors across the world maintain a personal collection of chemical elements that are stored and displayed safely at home, usually in glass ampoules. They get their hands on them by either scrounging around the kitchen or the house for easily available elements like iron, or ordering the more elusive ones from websites like Engineered Labs, which ship these elements to many countries including the UAE. Websites like Noon also sell element cubes. Much of the thrill lies in staring at the element display in marvel, for hours on end.

Magnet fishing

Just like fishing, except no fish are harmed. Magnet fishing perfectly combines your love for the outdoors, environment and surprises. Get a neodymium magnet, some strong rope and gloves and head to the nearest water body. Once the magnet is attached to the rope, spin and throw it into the water to fish out junk and, if you are lucky, some unexpected treasures. If you do end up with more junk than treasure, find solace in the fact that you at least did your bit for the environment.

Bookbinding

If you hate the outdoors and avoid it with a vengeance, seek comfort in the unusual hobby of bookbinding which found new followers during the pandemic. There are tons of YouTube videos on how to get started but according to papercraftpanda blog, if you are a newbie, you’ll need materials like paper, glue, linen thread, sewing needle, a utility knife and so on. Didn’t we always know there is something soothing about stationery?


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