In our brief visit to Punta Arenas, the southernmost city in Chile, along the Strait of Magellan, we learned that it played an important role in the heroic story of Ernest Shackleton, an Irish-born British citizen. In 1916 against incredible odds, he managed to rescue the crew of his ship, the Endurance, after they were stranded in Antarctica.
A good, concise account Shackleton’s heroic rescue of the crew of the Endurance, is in a story published (strangely enough) by the Freemasons. It also was the subject of a National Geographic documentary (click to view).
Briefly, in early 2015, the Endurance became trapped in an ice flow off Antarctica and had to be abandoned the following October after the ice destroyed the ship. In April 1916, Shackleton and five crew members set sail on a small lifeboat, heading for South Georgia Island more than 700 nautical miles away.
For 16 days the small boat progressed through extremely treacherous seas and in very rough conditions. Miraculously, they managed to land at South Georgia, but then Shackleton had to trek across the frozen island, along an unexplored route, to reach a whaling station on the far side of the island. Shackleton then went to Punta Arenas for help. After two failed attempts to reach his stranded men, which were turned back due to bad weather, he finally reached them on the third try, in August 1916. The entire crew was returned alive.
On Saturday, March 12, during our cruise from Santiago to Buenos Aires, we made a brief layover in Punta Arenas. Without any advance planning, we happened upon a grand old mansion on the main square, the Palacio de Sara Braun. We decided to take a tour. It is a “belle epoch” place, of the kind that might be found in New Orleans.
The lady who let us in and took our money was stern and not very communicative.
But then something special happened. As we were concluding our tour, we encountered a nice English couple we had befriended on our cruise ship. (This same couple had waited with us in line in Valparaiso, a week earlier, to board the cruise ship.) They insisted we should check out the bar at the back of the mansion.
At first we could not find it, but then we discovered the bar was behind an unmarked door. (Later we learned it has its own entrance from the street alongside the mansion.) It is called Shackleton Bar. The place was busy that afternoon with tourists, most of them, we suspected, from our cruise ship.
There in the Shackleton Bar was a dramatic series of paintings of the Shackleton expedition and rescue.
One of the paintings showed Shackleton on the front steps of this very house, coming to beg for help for the rescue mission he was preparing to launch.
Alas, we have no copy of the painting depicting Ernest Shackleton in front of the Palacio Sara Braun.
But we do have this photo of our friend, Doug, hamming it up there, at the top of those same steps.
The story of Ernest Shackleton is truly inspiring. To be sure, some of the most harrowing and heroic aspects of his courageous rescue occurred before he got to Punta Arenas. Still, it was a thrill to realize we had crossed an extraordinary man’s path, there at the Palacio Sara Braun.