When Rick and I started planning this workshop, Rick told me he had some absolutely fantastic photo guides in China; Andy and Mia Beales. Once I got there and got a chance to work with Andy and Mia (and two locals guides that work with them, Gao and David, seen above), I realized that Rick wasn't only right; he was holding back. They are photo guide superheroes! Calling them just fantastic is doing them a disservice. They are incredible. Extraordinary! They so have their "stuff" together, and besides being top-notch photographers themselves (award-winning, no less), they are absolutely top-notch people as well.
I could do an entire post just about on them. They handled everything; looked after everyone; planned every little logistics of moving 17 people, and loads of gear all over, and everything came together perfectly. Managing multiple buses, vans, boats, rafts, cars, and arranging 'Sherpas" to carry our equipment all over — it was just incredible.
To keep this somewhat short, but still give you an idea of the level they work at; we've taken a bus ride for an hour and a half; we get out and hike 25 minutes; we then take a small raft down the river into the middle of nowhere, and disembark on a small patch of land — all in pitch darkness. We start setting up our tripods, and it's like 5:00 am, and we're rather bleary-eyed as you might expect. Andy is helping us get set up, and Mia walks over to each of us with a cup of delicious hot coffee, and flakey, fresh-baked croissants. We're in the middle of nowhere, China, and we're drinking fresh coffee and having croissants as we wait for the Fisherman that Andy and Mia arranged to get into position. Oh. Come. On! That is just amazing.
They are just amazing, and the reason I need to tell you about them now is that without them, I wouldn't have gotten any of these photos. They worked with the retired fisherman to be there for us. They arranged to get us into local villager's homes to see how they live and photograph them in their surroundings. They arranged to have a model in traditional costumes for us to photograph inside a local museum. They arranged our hotels, many different forms of transportation, they planned all our meals, they even took us to McDonalds one day when they knew we needed a taste of home.
Mia, with a headlamp on before dawn setting up a coffee service out in the middle of nowhere.
Over the years, they have developed the connections and contacts and built up such trust and goodwill that they can arrange truly amazing shooting experiences for their clients. I totally see why Rick adores them, and now I, and the 11 other participants in our workshop do, too. They did more than arrange all the hotels, and meals, and got us to amazing shooting locations. They looked out for us. Cared for us. Made sure we had an incredible journey, and they made it so Rick and I could concentrate on teaching and spending time with our students and making new friends. They are just the best.
Their company is called "Gatsby Travel" and their Website is GatsbyTravel.com - if you want an adventure of a lifetime, with the best guides in the business, contact Andy and Mia. I can't wait until the next chance I get to work with them. Thank you, Rick for introducing me to these two marvels. They are everything you said and more!
I THOUGHT THEY WERE KIDDING WHEN THEY TOLD ME THIS…
When we landed in Guilin (at a surprisingly modern airport), Andy and Mia met us, and we were off to our first location — scouting a location that we would take our students to when they arrived in two days. I thought they were joking when they told me that we had a two-hour drive, and then we would hike up a mountain. They said not to worry, that they had put stairs that wind up the side of the hill, so it wouldn't be bad getting to the mountain top. I asked, "How many stairs?" They replied, "Between 700 and 800 or so." I seriously thought they were kidding.
They assured me they were not. "Around 700 steps." Of course, then it's another 700 coming down, so 1,400+ steps roundtrip. I was ready to bail, but they promised it would be worth it if I did the climb. Did I mention it was about 150° of sweltering heat and a level of humidity that would make summer in New York City seem like Antarctica? By the first 100 steps up the mountain, we were already completely drenched with sweat from head to toe.
The only thing that saved me was that about every 15 or 20 steps, there was a small landing where you could rest for a few moments before biting off another 15 or 20 steps. These weren't carpeted stairs at the Marriott. These were hard carved stone steps, and every step was a different height. You celebrated the shorter steps and cursed the really deep ones. Did I mention there was no railing? There was no railing.
I went at a very slow (sloth-like) pace, and I did pretty well until I was about 70 steps from the top, and I was just whipped. I had to take a rest against a big rock for about 5 minutes; then I went another 30 or so steps; then had to rest another 5 minutes, and when I finally got to the top I had to sit there for another 10 minutes to recharge myself enough to stand up and start taking some pictures. Thankfully, there was a nice breeze up top, and that helped a lot, plus our guides had plenty of bottles of water for us, which was awesome! The view was pretty incredible at sunset.
Here's a pano from up there (below).