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Man lost at sea returns home to El Salvador

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador (AP) -- Jose Salvador Alvarenga returned late Tuesday to the place where he learned to love the sea, bringing with him a fish tale for the ages.

The 37-year-old, who says he survived more than a year on a small boat drifting from Mexico across the Pacific Ocean to the Marshall Islands, arrived in his native El Salvador to a media throng, a daughter who didn't remember him and a mother who thought he was dead.

His story stunned the world when he washed up on the Ebon atoll almost two weeks ago, appearing robust and barely sunburned after more than a year at sea. But he had started out a much larger man, and turned out to be swollen and in pain from the ordeal, suffering from dehydration.

Alvarenga's journey home after a week of rest and medical treatment in Majuro was marked by long layovers in Honolulu and Los Angeles, where doctors checked his health and ability to continue the trip.

His father, Jose Ricardo Orellana, 65, who owns a store and flour mill in the seaside Salvadoran town of Garita Palmera, said his son first went to sea at age 14. "The sea was his thing," Orellana said.

Maria Julia Alvarenga, 59, said her son always had unusual strength and resilience.

His 14-year-old daughter, Fatima, made an archway of palms for the front door of the family home and a sign: "Welcome." She didn't remember ever seeing her father, who left El Salvador to fish in Mexico when she was just over a year old.

El Salvador Castaway Returns Home

Dozens of international journalists camped outside the family's green, brick complex with a ceramic floor about 10 blocks from the sea in an otherwise poor fishing village. More waited at the airport along with relatives and friends who started to gather early in the day.

"I haven't seen him for eight years. We're friends, we fished together," said Hector Antonio Zuniga, 39, who said he was dropping his nephew off at the airport and decided to wait and greet Alvarenga.

Alvarenga's incredible tale of drifting across 6,500 miles (10,500 kilometers) of open ocean, eating raw fish, turtles and drinking bird blood to survive initially left many skeptics. But experts said it would be humanly possible for him to survive.

Over several days, details emerged that seemed to corroborate the horrible journey.

Alvarenga said he worked in a fishing village on the Pacific coast of Mexico's southern Chiapas state, where he embarked. A man with his nickname, "Cirilo," had been registered as missing with civil defense officials there. They said a small fishing boat carrying two men, the other named Ezequiel Cordoba, disappeared during bad weather on Nov. 17, 2012, and no trace of them or the craft was found during an intense two-week search.

Cordoba died after about a month when he couldn't eat the raw fish and turtles, Alvarenga said.

Photos from the Marshall Islands published by Britain's Telegraph newspaper showed the boat that Alvarenga purportedly arrived in. It bore the hand-lettered name of a Chiapas fishing cooperative, Camaroneros de la Costa, for which Alvarenga said he worked for in the Costa Azul near Tonala.

The photos also showed a large plastic cooler that Alvarenga purportedly used to shelter himself from the sun and sea.

Join the discussion

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Daddy O February 12 2014 at 3:33 PM

oh yea he used a large cooler to keep the sun off.

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1 reply
goodgrief61945 Daddy O February 12 2014 at 7:28 PM

REALLY large.

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Daddy O February 12 2014 at 3:38 PM

I read survival stories where the people that died refused to eat snakes and bugs

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1 reply
BOB Daddy O February 12 2014 at 3:59 PM

Snakes taste better then chicken.
Bugs are well YUK but they will keep you alive.

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SCOUTINGUS February 12 2014 at 3:22 PM

Sounds kind of "fishey" to me.

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kleind862 February 12 2014 at 3:41 PM

Hurry Hurry get the book out and then the movie before the fish get cold. You blood ******* people.

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MRS T February 12 2014 at 2:45 PM

Okay. I'm see I'm not the only one that wasn't believing this story. Can't wait until someone investigates this story and exposes the truth. Was he originally planning to fake his death or did he murder the guy he was sailing with and came up with this scheme.

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markwilke February 12 2014 at 4:44 PM

Many people commenting that this story is a hoax. Not one explanation how this man and his boat got from Mexico to the Marshall Islands. Stick to the facts people.

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uptic007 February 12 2014 at 4:55 PM

I will give the guy the benefit of doubt for now. If in fact the story is true the story will hold up, if its a hoax well lets just say he may wish he were on that boat isolated from an unforgiving world. Thats for sure.

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Jayne February 12 2014 at 2:20 PM

I thought if there were birds, there was land nearby. Sure would like to hear true story.

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killifish February 12 2014 at 5:03 PM

He is a hero! There should be a holiday announced and monument erected in El Salvador to commemorate his epic sea voyage!

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abudotcom February 12 2014 at 1:03 PM

I still don't believe him.... ?

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