June 30, 2020
Last year for their anniversary, Christian Gonzalez and his wife, Stephanie, took a trip to Grumeti Reserves in Serengeti National Park in Tanzania. On the wall of the lodge, was the perfect map.
The hand-drawn map of Grumeti Reserves was just the style map that Christian had been searching for to develop for a place he is very passionate about – a site within the 120,000 acre Lapalala Wilderness, one of the largest private reserves in South Africa that is located just 200 miles from Johannesburg. He spent quite a while studying the map and then found the artist’s signature – Chris Robitaille.
Christian, an owner of a site within the Lapalala Wilderness, said he knew the map was exactly what he wanted, and he started searching the Internet to find the artist. He found Chris, artist and co-founder of Xplorer Maps, and his brother, Greg, president and co-founder. Soon after, the project to create the custom map of their site began.
“I wanted a particular look and feel that would be a beautiful visual representation of the greater reserve that could be passed down from generation to generation,” Christian said. “I wanted the map to highlight our site - the beautiful topography, the fauna, and the history - and to have that age-old discovery, explorer feel. Every company I had spoken to could not get it right. Some companies’ maps looked overly artificial, some looked overly new, and some used too much computer work. When I saw the artwork by Chris in Grumeti, I said, ‘Yes this is definitely the one.”
In addition to being part of his family’s history, the custom map will serve practical purposes, “When we have guests, we gather before the sun comes up for coffee and breakfast before a morning out in the bush,” he said. “We want to show them the reserve landmarks on the map in preparation for our day. If you do that on Google Earth, it takes away from what is a very authentic wilderness experience.”
Set in the Waterberg Mountains and with the Palala River running through it, herds of elephants, Cape Buffalo, and the endangered Black Rhino roam the spectacular landscape. In 1981, a massive conservation project began to provide a safe habitat for the animals, support surrounding communities, build a wilderness school, and safeguard the legacy of the Lapalala Wilderness. Read more about the reserve here. Christian became involved in the project in 2015 when he and his wife were introduced to the founders of the reserve.
To ensure sustainability, the reserve has begun a custodian project and developed a special breeding project to grow the wildlife population and two new safari lodges to enhance tourism. Christian takes pride in the fact that the reserve is “off the grid” and being brought back to true wilderness without the power lines and concrete roads of traditional safari areas in Africa.
For artist Chris, the Lapalala Wilderness project was an opportunity to return to his roots. Before he and his brother started Xplorer Maps, Chris, a world-renowned wildlife artist, had lived and worked in Kenya for more than 20 years and created a series of maps featuring Africa. See our collection here.
“I consider myself incredibly fortunate to be so familiar with the landscapes and wildlife of Kenya,” Chris said. “Even though Lapalala is in South Africa, the similarities are quite evident, and it’s giving me the chance to illustrate these incredible animals and topography all over again. It’s re-kindling memories of family, friends, and lots of fun that we shared over two decades living in the Masai Mara area of Kenya and where we still return every year to spend time with family.”
According to Greg, “This partnership with Christian for his Lapalala Wilderness map came at the perfect time when Xplorer Maps had an opening in our production schedule this past fall. I immediately knew how special this opportunity would be for Chris to spend time working with subject matter that is so close to his heart. Additionally, this project fits in extremely well with Xplorer Maps moving forward as we expand into Africa across the continent beginning in 2021 with new maps of a handful of countries and world-famous national parks.”
For Christian, the working process with Xplorer Maps has been positive. “The personal communications have been happening almost every couple of days now and have been very detailed,” he said.
“Xplorer Maps has an amazing product. Our map will be more than just an art piece. It will be a piece of history that’s up there on the wall that creates conversation and helps tell a story.”
Photo caption: Black rhinos on the Lapalala Wilderness Reserve, with an inset of one of Xplorer Maps' first sketches of the reserve.
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