Maxime Chaya: The global ad­ven­turer keeps things lo­cal

Lebanon Traveler - - CONTENT -

Global ad­ven­turer Maxime Chaya keeps things lo­cal with a six­day cy­cling jour­ney along the Le­banon Moun­tain Trail

Le­banese sports­man Maxime Chaya’s achieve­ments are many and de­spite al­ready hav­ing ticked off most of the world’s tough­est phys­i­cal chal­lenges and ex­pe­di­tions he’s still in­cred­i­bly ac­tive. Hav­ing just com­pleted the TSC New York City Marathon on 2 Novem­ber for St Jude’s Chil­dren’s Hos­pi­tal, Chaya ran the Beirut Marathon on 9 Novem­ber for NGO Roads for Life, lead­ing a group of am­bas­sadors to the fin­ish line. But for a man who’s climbed the high­est peaks in the world, trekked to the poles and rowed an ocean, two marathons in one week don’t even faze him. Sat in his Down­town of­fice filled with end­less rows of tro­phies and medals in the im­pres­sive Audi Plaza, the head­quar­ters of Bank Audi for which he’s a cor­po­rate am­bas­sador, Chaya, in full suit and tie, slowly works through au­to­graph­ing a pile of his book “Steep Dreams,” to send out to fel­low ad­ven­tur­ers. Pub­lished in 2009, the cof­fee ta­ble book is an ac­count of his three years climb­ing the high­est peaks on ev­ery con­ti­nent as part of the Seven Sum­mits Chal­lenge. “My friends and fam­ily never thought I could make a ca­reer out of adventure and sports un­til I ap­peared on na­tional stamps,” he jokes. A huge poster cov­ers the back of his of­fice door, show­ing him plant­ing the Le­banese flag on top of Mount Ever­est. You’d think af­ter com­plet­ing one of the world’s tough­est phys­i­cal chal­lenges he wouldn’t be keen on re­turn­ing, but for Chaya it’s a life’s pas­sion. “When I came back from Ever­est to Le­banon the Prime Min­is­ter asked me if I’d do it again. I said that I’d love to, only this time from the other south­ern, Nepali side. He spent the next 15 min­utes try­ing to con­vince me why I didn’t need to do it again,” he laughs.

Chaya was the first from the Mid­dle East to walk from the Antarc­tic Coast to the

South Pole in 2007, be­com­ing the 16th per­son in his­tory to com­plete the Three Poles Chal­lenge and in Au­gust 2013 he beat the world record for row­ing across the In­dian Ocean (row­ingth­ein­di­anocean. com) as part of a three-man team, trav­el­ing 6500 nau­ti­cal miles in 57 days. With his ad­ven­tures tak­ing him all over the world, his many sto­ries spill out of him. This is a man who love’s life and who’s ex­pe­di­tions are not only about ex­treme phys­i­cal chal­lenge, but see­ing the world and meet­ing its peo­ple. At 53, de­spite hav­ing achieved most of the big­gest ac­co­lades in the sport­ing world, he’s not plan­ning on slow­ing down any time soon and has an­other chal­lenge in the works. “I have some­thing in mind. I can’t sit still any­more,” he says. “I’m still fit and I have lots of ex­pe­ri­ence; I’m no longer young and no-one’s forc­ing me to do it but I love it.”

You’re com­ing on a bi­cy­cle, you’re at their level; peo­ple open up to you

Chaya pauses be­tween sto­ries, jump­ing to his com­puter screen to show the early drafts of his up­com­ing book cov­er­ing his jour­ney across the In­dian Ocean. “I usu­ally keep di­aries along the way. This one was more of a chal­lenge, I couldn’t write as I went along be­cause there was so much row­ing and prob­lem solv­ing to do ev­ery day,” he says. De­spite his ad­ven­tures around the world, among some of the world’s most stunning land­scapes, one ex­pe­ri­ence that sticks in his mind is much closer to home. In 2008 Chaya cy­cled 470km from the far north of Le­banon, Qbaiyat, to Mar­jay­oun in the south, along with Bri­tish ge­ol­o­gist and cy­cling en­thu­si­ast Steve Holyoak fol­low­ing the Le­banon Moun­tain Trail (LMT) over six days, stay­ing overnight in small lo­cal guest­houses and pow­ered by sea­sonal food from each re­gion. “Le­banon is a fab­u­lous place, we have amaz­ing weather, four dis­tinct sea­sons, sea, moun­tains, add to that the tab­bouleh fac­tor and the warmth of the peo­ple,” he says.

His cy­cle along the LMT was not with­out adventure. “We got punc­tures galore along the way,” Chaya says, go­ing on to say that at times the moun­tain­ous ter­rain proved too dif­fi­cult to cy­cle along and the pair had to put their bikes on their backs and climb. “You have to be able to take hard­ship; to be able to get out of your com­fort zone,” he adds. There were a few wrong turn­ings along the way too, from head­ing off road and reach­ing a warn­ing sign for land mines, to choos­ing the LMT trail “up an over­hang­ing cliff face with only thorny bushes as hand­holds,” in­stead of the smooth tar­mac trail up to Bchar­reh. Ad­ven­turer Holyoak per­suaded them to take the chal­leng­ing route and “…30 min­utes later saw us grip­ping our bikes be­tween our teeth, hang­ing up­side down from our toe­nails still 100 ver­ti­cal me­ters from the top. Af­ter I clum­sily sent a house-sized boul­der crash­ing down to the base of the cliff we made the wise de­ci­sion to re­trace our path and take the more sen­si­ble route,” Holyoak re­ports in the blog of their jour­ney (thethree­p­oles. com/blog/2008/07/12/lmtb-1-lebane­se­moun­tain-trail-by-bike-part-1.)

“We met strange peo­ple along the way but I’m sure we looked equally strange to them too,” Chaya laughs. He points to a photo on his com­puter screen taken on the jour­ney, with him tow­er­ing over a tiny woman in tra­di­tional clothes, ev­ery bit a part of the land­scape, star­ing up at him quizzi­cally. From meet­ing a young boy that Hol­lyoak called the “kid with Mars Bars for tooth­paste” to nuns in an overnight stay in a Kobay­ate con­vent; for Chaya the jour­ney was not only about the beau­ti­ful land­scapes but “meet­ing so many peo­ple from dif­fer­ent back­grounds and re­li­gions, all who were very hos­pitable.” Trav­el­ing the coun­try by bike is cer­tainly more of an all-en­com­pass­ing ex­pe­ri­ence and Chaya found the hu­mil­ity of trav­el­ing by bike opened up the doors to connect with lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties. “You’re com­ing on a bi­cy­cle, you’re at their level; peo­ple open up to you, tell you their prob­lems. You re­al­ize that ev­ery­one has their prob­lems. We just have to find how to co­ex­ist in this Promised Land.”

The jour­ney along the LMT for Chaya was also a way to “con­vey the true face of Le­banon; not what we see on the news all the time,” and an op­por­tu­nity for him to dis­cover ru­ral ar­eas and go deep to the root of the coun­try’s di­verse re­gions, its cul­ture and its peo­ple. “It’s a won­der­ful way to re­ally dis­cover Le­banon. Like many of us Le­banese, I had never been to th­ese places. Cy­cling is not like tour­ing on a bus or by car; you get to ex­pe­ri­ence the whole thing first hand, to talk eat and sleep with the peo­ple,” he says. “It’s a real taste of Le­banon through a sport you en­joy and you can in­dulge in vast quan­ti­ties of food ev­ery day,” he says.

And with so many ex­pe­ri­ences and sto­ries of food, peo­ple and land­scapes cre­at­ing vivid mem­o­ries, Chaya is keen to re­peat the adventure, this time from South to North.

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