A man leaves Mexico in November or December 2012 for a day of shark fishing and ends up surviving 13 or 14 months on fish, birds and turtles before washing ashore on the remote Marshall Islands thousands of miles away.

But that’s what a man identifying himself as 37-year-old Jose Salvador Alvarenga told the U.S. ambassador in the Marshall Islands and the nation’s officials during a 30-minute meeting Monday before he was taken to a local hospital for monitoring.  Alvarenga washed ashore on the tiny atoll of Ebon in the Pacific Ocean last week.

If true, the man’s ordeal would rank among the greatest tales ever of survival at sea.  But, why would you even question the story because how else would you get from the coast of Mexico to the little Marshall Islands.

Mexico’s Foreign Relations Department says the man told Mexico’s ambassador to the Philippines, that he set out from an area near the coastal town of Tonala, Mexico: which would mean his journey covered a distance of more than 6,500 miles if he drifted in a straight line.

Officials said the soft-spoken man complained of joint pain Monday and had a limp but was able to walk.  He had long hair and a beard and rather than appearing emaciated, he looked puffy in places, including around his ankles. Otherwise, he seemed to be in reasonable health.

The survivor told the following story:

He’s a native of El Salvador but had lived in Mexico for 15 years and is a fisherman that catches sharks for 25 pesos ($1.90) per pound.   On Dec. 21, 2012, Alvarenga left Mexico in his 23-foot fiberglass boat for a day’s fishing, accompanied by a teen he knew only as Ezekiel.  A storm came up and blew them  off course, and soon they were lost and adrift.

He talked about scooping up little fish that swam alongside the boat and eating them raw.  He also said he ate birds, and drank birds’ blood and also stated that he ate turtles.  After about a month, the teenager, Ezekiel died.  Once near Ebon, he swam ashore.

In a fishing hamlet near Tonala, a fishing boat owner said Alvarenga and a companion had gone missing on Nov. 18, 2012, which would imply the sea odyssey lasted 14½ months.

Residents of Costa Azul said they didn’t know Alvarenga’s real name.  He had shown up looking for work years before, but worked from fishing camps along the coast.  They knew him only by a nickname, “La Chancha,” used to describe heavy-set people.

The man said he had no family in Mexico but he does have three brothers who live in the U.S.

The acting secretary of foreign affairs for the Marshall Islands, said he was somewhat skeptical of Alvarenga’s account after meeting with him Monday because he was in fairly excellent shape for someone adrift for that period of time. The survivor’s vital signs appeared good except that his blood pressure was a bit low.

A Sydney-based oceanographer at the University of New South Wales, said there was a good chance a boat drifting off Mexico’s west coast would eventually be carried by currents to the Marshall Islands.  He said such a journey would typically take 18 months to two years depending on the winds and currents, although 13 months was possible.  He said that there is a very strong westerly current just north of the equator and that basically drives you directly from Mexico all the way toward Indonesia and in the path, you go right over the Marshall Islands.

There have been other cases of people surviving for months adrift in the Pacific.  In a case with similarities, three Mexican shark fishermen in 2006 said they were lost at sea for nine months before being rescued near the Marshall Islands.

I too am skeptical because of his personal condition, which was still one of someone quite overweight.  I also question how he survived that long without drinking water.  Either way, it seems to be quite the story of survival.

 

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