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Jose Salvador Alvarenga, ocean castaway is mentally fragile, doctors say

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador (AP) -- Jose Salvador Alvarenga has surprised doctors with his good physical condition, though they caution that the famed castaway is psychologically fragile as he recovers from what he has described as more than a year adrift at sea surviving on raw fish, turtles and bird blood.

All of the doctors who examined Alvarenga after he returned to his native El Salvador said he appears shaken and has asked to be given as much privacy as possible amid an international media furor over his apparent ordeal.

"I want to be alone with my family. They should give me time to talk after I have recovered, because right now I'm in no shape to explain anything," Alvarenga said from his hospital bed in a video shown to the press on Wednesday by the ministry of public health. "That's what I'm asking them, that they leave me in peace, so I can recover, that they don't bother my family, so I can be well. Nothing more than that."

El Salvador Castaway Emotionally Exhausted but in Good Physical Health

Alvarenga underwent a battery of tests after being hospitalized upon his return home from the Marshall Islands, where he showed up after what he has described as 6,500-mile (10,500-kilometer) journey from Mexico across the Pacific that began when his small fishing boat was thrown off course by bad weather.

He told doctors that several large ships came near his small fishing boat but none tried to rescue him, even though sailors on at least one even waved at him.

"They passed close by, he asked them for help and they didn't want to provide it," said El Salvador's minister of public health, Maria Isabel Rodriguez. "There was one that almost destroyed his little boat because it came so close, but nobody helped him."

Although he was close to despair, "his desire to live was greater, he thought of his family and said that he wanted to live," Rodriguez said.

The medical team that examined Alvarenga at the San Rafael hospital in the Salvadoran capital said he was in remarkably good physical health, with no skin lesions from overexposure to the sun and no cardiovascular or kidney issues. His only physical problem, doctors said, was a case of anemia.

"All of the exams have been basically close to normal. It's incredible," Rodriguez said.

She and other Salvadoran experts who looked at Alvarenga's results said they had no doubt about the veracity of his tale, which left many skeptical even in the absence of an alternate explanation for his sudden appearance on the Marshall Islands' Ebon atoll.

"He challenges ideas about human physiology that we've had for a long time, but miracles exist and I don't think there's any reason to doubt him," hospital director Yeerles Ramirez told reporters.

Rodriguez said that after Alvarenga arrived at the San Salvador airport late Tuesday and saw dozens of waiting reporters, photographers and cameramen, "he quickly fell into a depression and started crying because he's not ready to talk to the whole world."

Alvarenga, 37, has asked for tortillas and a pupusa, a thick stuffed corn tortilla that is a Salvadoran specialty, and he has already eaten a tortilla with cheese, Rodriguez said.

The fisherman will remain hospitalized for at least two days while he rests and undergoes a series of exams, among them a test of his kidney function, Ramirez told reporters outside the hospital.

Alvarenga's story stunned the world when he washed up on Ebon 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 doctors found that he was swollen and in pain from the ordeal, suffering from dehydration.

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

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 has said.

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Lazaraescudaro February 15 2014 at 12:32 AM

Only ..... his mother believes him.

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saryme February 14 2014 at 1:27 PM

What ever happened to thiking the best of people. I believe this guy and I do believe in God's miracles. God bless him and his family.

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jackpot1111 February 14 2014 at 11:43 AM

I wonder if he considered eating his buddy Cordoba?

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BILL February 14 2014 at 8:41 AM

Being on a Naval ship in the Pacific and going through typhoons and stormy weather that dumped water over the bow of the ship and knocked over lockers with heavy rolls I find it amazing that this fishermans little boat wasnt capsized in the first month of his journey.amazing luck if true.

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ecinicola February 14 2014 at 8:30 AM

I have no doubt about this man's account for the year he was at sea. He has no reason to lie about it. I am glad that he finanlly got out and I can't imagine the ordeal he went through. that had to be extremely depressing and tramatic. It will take time for him to recover mentally, as well as physcially. God must have helped him and I am sure God will continue to help him.

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stuntin900s February 14 2014 at 8:07 AM

damn long time to be floatin round the sea all alone. bet he has all kinds little babies swimmin round the ocean!!!!!

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geraldlsolis February 14 2014 at 8:06 AM

Go back and look at some of the World War II pictures of American and Japanese pilots who were shot down over the Pacific and spent "just" a couple of months on rubber rafts. They were SKELETONS. This CHUBBY guy hasn't been eating turtles for a year.

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rjb330 February 14 2014 at 7:39 AM

He killed his partner, then went back to shore somewhere to hide out, until he decided enough time had elapsed, upon returning to sea, only to be rescued and concocting his lame alibi to cover up the murder of his partner......he will never get away with this one.....!!

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2 replies to rjb330's comment
kcarthey February 14 2014 at 7:46 AM

What was his motive for killing his partner? Where did he do it? Do you have any idea how much time it would take to sail from Mexico to the Marshall Islands? You sound like some Southern Sheriff making up "evidence" to fit the crime of your mind.

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hokiearchitect85 February 14 2014 at 8:34 AM

Why, may I ask, in your mind, are Southern Sheriff's (and I'm supposing by extension all Southerners) corrupt? Your comment demostrates your own prejudices. Think before you speak.

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ecinicola February 14 2014 at 8:32 AM

How could you even think such a thing or accuse someone of Murder when you have no eartly credibility.

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jclewsmass February 14 2014 at 7:37 AM

Look at those chubby cheeks!! No way was he in a boat for 13 months without food.

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2 replies to jclewsmass's comment
BILL February 14 2014 at 8:29 AM

He ate raw fish and turtles,the ocean is full of them and being on a fishing boat with a cabin and proper equipment is alot different from being on a rubber life raft with one hook and a line.

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ecinicola February 14 2014 at 8:36 AM

He has food.......read the article. He lived on Fish and other things.

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Bobby February 14 2014 at 7:28 AM

I'm from NYC and I don't believe a word of his story!

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2 replies to Bobby's comment
photomod10 February 14 2014 at 8:09 AM

I accept that you don't believe a word of his story, but please tell me what your being from NYC has to do with anything, including your opinion?

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oldalto February 14 2014 at 8:33 AM

photomod10, I guess Bobby figures the rest of the country should assume that if you are from NYC that you are more knowledgeable about everything. (big LOL)

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jessewooding February 14 2014 at 12:14 PM

He was just mentioning being from NYC and not believing the guy's story because kcarthey's comment above made it sound like you would have to be a southern sheriff to make up "evidence" in your mind to fit the crime this guy may have possibly committed. The idea was that this guy may have murdered his fishing partner, hid out somewhere for a while, and then decided he wanted to get back to regular life and the evidence likely washed away by now. Either way would be hard to prove.

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ecinicola February 14 2014 at 8:37 AM

What does being from NY have to do with it? duh. I believe the mans story and have no reason not too

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