Finding Inspiration in Portugal
Words by Ben Giese | Photos by Luca Gambuti
A desire to explore new territory is part of human nature, and our innate craving for discovery is something that is hardwired into our DNA. Much like Christopher Columbus’s first voyage across the Atlantic or Neil Armstrong’s first step on the moon, this curiosity is something that continuously drives humanity forward. And that thrill of breaking new ground is what sparks our imaginations and helps expand our understanding of the world we live in.
As the infamous ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau once pondered, “What is the origin of the devouring curiosity that drives men to commit their lives, their health, their reputation, their fortunes, to conquer a bit of knowledge, to stretch our physical, emotional or intellectual territory?” He continued: “The more time I spend observing nature, the more I believe that man’s motivation for exploration is but the sophistication of a universal instinctive drive deeply ingrained in all living creatures. Life is growth – individuals and species grow in size, in number, and in territory. The peripheral manifestation of growing is exploring the outside world.”
Back in March Ducati had invited me to Portugal for the release of their new Scrambler 1100, and while riding through the historic city of Lisbon those profound thoughts of human exploration, instinct and our natural desire for adventure were racing inside my helmet. During my visit I stopped by the impressive Padrão dos Descobrimentos (Monument to the Discoveries). This monument was constructed in 1939 on the northern bank of the Tagus River to celebrate Portugal’s Age of Discovery during the 15th and 16th centuries. The monument pays tribute to all of the fearless navigators, particularly the Portuguese explorers who once departed from these banks.
Portugal spearheaded early European exploration of the world, and Portuguese captains of the era quickly became the best in Europe, sailing the most maneuverable ships and using the latest innovations in navigation and cartography. The monument includes depictions of many groundbreaking explorers, including the likes of Ferdinand Magellan — a Portuguese explorer who led the first voyage to circumnavigate the globe.
Crews of men numbering in the hundreds would depart on massive wooden ships to venture across the ocean and return years later with only a fraction of the crewmembers surviving. In those days, if the ship didn’t sink, crewmembers would likely die from starvation, disease, pirate raids or even attacks from the aboriginal tribes occupying the land they were exploring. Many people believed in sea monsters, huge whirlpools and a searing sun that produced boiling waters in the outer regions of the Atlantic Ocean that would kill anyone who came close. Yet amongst all that terrifying folklore and the loss of so many human lives, these bold navigators ventured onward into the unknown to discover new worlds.
Feeling inspired, I start up my Scrambler 1100 to depart from the monument and ride through the historic city of Lisbon. The significant architecture of this city still echoes the Old World, and I can’t help but think about how these old cobblestone streets I am riding are the same those great explorers once walked. As I reflect back to that time, and to those people, I come to the realization that the modern-day motorcycle adventurer is not all that different from those early explorers. Sure, our expeditions might be a bit more calculated, and with a much higher survival rate, but ultimately we share the same passion for adventure and curiosity for the unknown.
Portugal will forever be known as the Land of Discovery, and much like those early wooden ships, my Scrambler 1100 is a vessel for discovery. It’s a tool for exploration and a means for seeing the planet from a new perspective. With this newfound perspective I saddle up and ride south down the beautiful Portuguese coastline. And who knows what I might discover…