The improbable story of Pacific castaway Jose Salvador Alvarenga is one for the ages. And as more details emerge about his alleged 13 months adrift in the Pacific, his tale is becoming more believable, corroborated by medical evidence and other fishermen, and more emotional, with new details from his parents.
Alvarenga claims he survived for more than a year by eating fish, birds, sharks, turtles and other sea life he caught with his bare hands. He says he drank rainwater, and occasionally, his own urine. He says his prayers were answered on Jan. 30, when he washed up on a remote atoll in the Marshall Islands – roughly 5,000 miles from where he said he entered the Pacific Ocean off Mexico. (Read more details from his days at sea.)
Skeptics of Alvarenga’s claims have called attention to a couple of key facts: Few people could be found to verify his departure date (or location), his family had not spoken to Alvarenga in years, and, perhaps most obviously, Alvarenga looked anything but emaciated when he walked off his battered boat. See footage of Alvarenga in the Marshall Islands below:
• As reported by NBC, doctors say that his healthy appearance is actually due to swollen internal organs – a typical side effect of prolonged exposure to sun and salt.
• Bolstering Alvarenga’s claims of departing Mexico in 2012 is new reporting from another fisherman, Belarmino Rodriguez Solis, who told the El Universal newspaper that he remembers Alvarenga and his companion Ezequiel Cordoba (who allegedly starved to death while on board after being unable to stomach the pair’s scavenged diet) setting sail off the coast of Chiapas in Mexico. Cordoba’s aunt confirmed Tuesday that he left their village of Fortin Dec. 18, 2012, to set off with Alvarenga.
• Alvarenga’s parents, meanwhile, spoke out about their ordeal to NBC partner Telemundo. “They told me that he had entered the sea and that he’d never come out,” Alvarenga’s father, Richard Orellana, said from their family home in El Salvador.
“But because she was ill, I told her nothing,” he said of his wife, Julia Alvarenga. She says that she had no idea her son had vanished at sea, but had suspicions that something had happened since he’d been out of touch for so long. “But now I’m saying thank you to God. Blessed thanks to God because I didn’t think I would hear this news.”
Alvarenga, for his part, seems to still be struggling: He tells NBC News (through a translator) that he continues to feel disoriented and is battling swollen joints. He adds that his “mind is scrambled” and he “can’t think anymore.”
But at least one issue has been resolved. Upon reaching land, Alvarenga reportedly kept asking, “When do I get a haircut? I need a haircut.” On Monday, he finally got a trim.
Speaking by phone to his sister Evelin, he also left a message for his family: “I want to go home. I want to talk to Mommy.”
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