Castaway's family had 'feared the worst'
Family of Salvadorean fisherman Jose Salvador Alvarenga say its a miracle he is alive, after he says he survived more than a year adrift in the Pacific Ocean.
Fishermen in a small village in southern Mexico remember when their friend Jose Salvador Alvarenga set out for what was meant to be a day-long shark fishing expedition in late 2012.
When Mr Alvarenga, 37, did not return to shore that evening, the fishermen raised the alarm, sparking a two-week ocean search that found no trace of him or his 7.3-metre fibreglass boat.
The men accepted that their friend had probably died at sea, and even laid flowers at the small hut where Mr Alvarenga had lived in the municipality of Pijijiapan, in Chiapas state.
So they were astonished 14 months later when a scruffy, long-haired man claiming to be Mr Alvarenga washed up on a remote atoll in the Marshall Islands, about 12,500 kilometres away.
Footage showed their friend walking off a rescue boat, holding a can of Coke and waving to about 1000 curious onlookers who had gathered at the marina in the Marshall Islands capital of Majuro.
Nobody survives more than two or three months in those conditions.
So incredible are the details of his apparent voyage that some authorities have expressed scepticism about his survival tale.
But back in Mexico, the group of fishermen who have seen images of the castaway on the news are convinced it is their friend.
"We're surprised, we couldn't believe it, now that we saw him on the news we're totally sure it is him," fisherman Williams Decuir Uscanga told the El Universal newspaper in Mexico.
Another fisherman, Belarmino Rodriguez Solis, said it was a "great surprise".
"Nobody survives more than two or three months in those conditions," he told the newspaper.
"We even laid flowers in the palm hut where he lived.
"When fishermen leave and do not return we look for them."
Jose Luis Ovando Corzo, told the newspaper: "In 27 years I haven't seen anyone survive so much time at sea, until this guy who is a world record for all fishermen."
The civil defence office in Chiapas confirmed that a small fishing boat carrying two people was reported missing during bad weather on November 17, 2012. No trace of them or the craft was found despite two weeks of intense searches that included a government helicopter scouring the ocean from above.
The civil defence office said the two people on board that vessel were named as Cirilo Vargas and Ezequiel Cordoba.
Mr Alvarenga's parents, from the seaside town of Garita Palmera in El Salvador, said their son was known in his hometown by the nickname "Cirilo".
When he washed up on the Ebon Atoll, the southernmost cluster of coral islands in the Marshalls, last Thursday, Mr Alvarenga told locals that his fellow fisherman, named Ezequiel, had died of starvation during the journey and that he had thrown his body overboard.
Mr Alvarenga said he survived by eating birds, turtles, fish and sharks and was often forced to drink his own urine while he drifted on the ocean.
He said he thought about suicide, but his strong religious faith sustained him as he drifted from Mexico to the Marshall Islands.
"I didn't want to die of starvation," he told AFP through a Spanish interpreter at Majuro Hospital, where he is recuperating.
"There were times I would think about killing myself. But I was scared to do it," he added, raising his arm, pointing to heaven and declaring: "God! Faith!"
He dreamed of eating his favourite food - tortillas - and reuniting with his family.
Mr Alvarenga also recalled the day he struck trouble in late 2012.
"We had just finished a day of shark fishing when the motor died," he said. "I wasn't worried at first but I couldn't get a radio signal, and meanwhile there was a wind that pushed us further out."
His mood darkened as he described how Ezequiel, who he says was aged 15 to 18, died four months into their voyage, unable to survive on a diet of raw bird flesh, turtle blood and his own urine.
"I tried to get him to hold his nose and eat but he kept vomiting," Mr Alvarenga said.
He said the teenager died of starvation and he pushed his body into the ocean. "What else could I do?"
Mr Alvarenga said he tried to keep track of time as the sun moved across the sky but weeks and months eventually blurred.
Every so often sea turtles bumped into his boat.
"I was able to reach over the side of the boat and grab them," he said.
He also caught fish and learnt to stand still in the rocking boat to snatch approaching sea birds.
Mr Alvarenga said he was originally from El Salvador but had been living in Mexico for 15 years before his epic voyage. He had a teenage daughter in El Salvador.
His parents, Jose Ricardo Orellana and Maria Julia Alvarenga, and his 14-year-old daughter, Fatima, told El Salvador's El Mundo newspaper that they were delighted at Mr Alvarenga's survival.
They said they had not seen him in years, and proudly showed pictures of him, appearing younger and with much darker hair.
Mr Alvarenga's mother said she dreamt of her son's survival and hoped he would soon return home.
"I dreamed about him, I saw him alive in my dreams, but then he vanished. I kept dreaming like that for several days," she said.
"I feel happy that my son is alive and that soon we'll have him back home."
HIs father told El Mundo: "I feel pity for him, I feel mixed emotions to see Jose Salvador like this, a mix of sadness and happiness."
"I had heard that he has gone to sea and was lost at the sea, but I always prayed for his well-being".
Mr Alvarenga also has family in the US, who said he appeared to be the same man as their relative and said that he had a small barbed wire tattoo.
Authorities in the Marshall Islands said the castaway who washed up had a tattoo matching that description.
smh.com.au with AFP