How long does it take to prepare for an unplanned jaunt to China? Not long it turns out as it took just a few days for me to apply for a visa, cancel immediate commitments on the Isle of Skye and jump on a plane from Manchester to Beijing. Why? I was filling in for a colleague, helping to lead a 10-day photography holiday for Worldwide Explorers around this enigmatic and captivating country.
Typically I replaced one incapacitated colleague, only to fall down some stairs at the airport myself, tearing a few ligaments in my ankle. Duty called and I soldiered on, limping up and down the Great Wall each day. The pain was worth being able to stand on one of the most incredible human structures in the world. Stretching away as far as I could see in both directions, it was quite difficult to wrap your head around how old and extensive the wall is. On our last morning exploring the Great Wall, morning sunlight poured through a chink in the cloud, illuminating timeless white stone and making the entire wall glow - quite the send off.
Our next stop from Beijing was 2,000km south. We could have jumped on an airplane sure, but that's a generic experience. We opted for a 19-hour overnight train, which may sound like madness but what a way to experience the landscapes and people of China. As well as being surprisingly comfortable, the journey offered the opportunity to photograph real people. Portraiture is not something I do a lot of, but it was such a refreshing challenge and experience.
Having never visited China before, or any part of Asia for that matter, this trip was an amazing cultural experience. China is a huge, varied country with so much to offer and I'm sure I'll be heading back in the future to explore more of these. Our group of 8 photographers left with full memory cards and smiles on their faces.