Man who survived 13 months adrift set to fly home

by Giff Johnson, Agence France-Presse

Posted at Feb 10 2014 06:41 PM | Updated as of Feb 11 2014 02:41 AM

MAJURO - Castaway Jose Salvador Alvarenga was set to depart the Marshall Islands on Monday for his homeland of El Salvador after medics cleared him to travel, a source familiar with the situation said.

The fisherman, who says he survived 13 months adrift on the Pacific Ocean, needed a green light from doctors after suffering from ill-health in the wake of his ordeal, which ended when he washed up on a remote atoll 12 days ago.

Officials have imposed a media blackout around the exhausted survivor since he conducted a flurry of interviews soon after arriving in Majuro, but a source told AFP he was expected to leave Monday night on a flight bound for Hawaii.

From there, he will travel to El Salvador, most likely via the US West Coast, to be reunited with the family who had long thought he was dead.

The 37-year-old has been in and out of hospital since arriving in Majuro, suffering from dehydration and a range of ailments linked to surviving on a diet of raw fish and bird flesh, with only turtle blood and his own urine to drink.

Alvarenga told AFP last week that his crewmate -- named as 24-year-old Ezequiel Cordoba -- could not stomach such foodstuffs and did not survive the 12,500-kilometre (8,000-mile) trip from Mexico.

The Salvadoran appeared in good health when he first arrived in Majuro but has since complained of back pain, swollen joints and lethargy.

Franklyn House, a retired US doctor who met Alvarenga last week, said he had become increasingly withdrawn and appeared to be suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome.

He had been due to leave last Friday but El Salvador's foreign ministry said one of its diplomats had met him and "confirmed that the health of Mr Alvarenga is broken" and needed to improve before his departure.

Alvarenga lived as an illegal migrant in Mexico for more than a decade before the fateful shark-fishing trip that began his odyssey in late 2012 and has expressed interest in moving back to his adopted homeland.

But Manila-based Mexican diplomat Christian Clay Mendez, who is in Majuro helping coordinate Alvarenga's repatriation, has made it clear he has to go to El Salvador first then apply to enter Mexico legally.

His parents, who have hailed his survival as "a divine miracle" live in western El Salvador, near the border with Guatemala, where they care for his 14-year-old daughter Fatima.

The girl has little recollection of her father and could not even picture his face until newspapers published photographs of the stocky fisherman with the bushy beard and unkempt hair who washed up on the other side of the Pacific.

In an interview with AFP from hospital last Tuesday, Alvarenga said he had suicidal thoughts during his trip but was sustained by dreams of reuniting with his family and eating tortilla and chicken.

His mother Maria Julia has said she is eager to oblige when he returns home.

"We will make him a big meal, but we won't feed him fish because he must be bored of eating that," she told AFP. "We will make him a big plate of meat, beans and cheese to help him recover."