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article imageDoubts, fears and tears at Salvadoran castaway's homecoming

By Oscar Batres (AFP)     Feb 19, 2014 in World

The Salvadoran fisherman who says he survived 13 months adrift in the Pacific enjoyed an emotional welcome home Wednesday full of tears, hugs and painful questions about what comes next.

"I am just so happy to be here again with my family," Jose Salvador Alvarenga said, his first words as he emerged from a car ride from the capital San Salvador to Garita Palmera, a simple beach town of fishermen and small farmers that he once called home.

Awaiting his highly anticipated arrival were his tearful parents Ricardo Orellana and María Julia Alvarenga, wife Arely and young daughter Fatima.

"I am overjoyed that my son is here in his home. For me, he has been born again," beamed his father, who was wearing a Marshall Islands T-shirt.

"If he wants, he can work with me out in the country. Or as a baker, because we have an oven so he could make a fresh start with that."

How to rebuild?

Castaway Alvarenga, 37, washed ashore in the Marshall Islands on January 30, telling reporters he had survived in a small fiberglass boat for more than a year after setting off from Mexico in late 2012.

The fisherman says he endured the 12,500-kilometer (8,000-mile) trip by eating raw fish and bird flesh and drinking turtle blood and his own urine.

Pacific castaway Jose Salvador Alvarenga has lunch at his home in Garita Palmera  118 km west of San...
Pacific castaway Jose Salvador Alvarenga has lunch at his home in Garita Palmera, 118 km west of San Salvador, El Salvador, on February 19, 2014
Jose Cabezas, AFP

Alvarenga had not been back to his home town in eight years; when he left for a new life in Mexico his daughter was a small child. Now she is a teenager.

Jose Narciso Ramirez, mayor of a nearby small city, traveled with him to his parent's home, promising to help Alvarenga -- whom doctors said is suffering from fear of the sea and potential post-traumatic stress disorder -- "rebuild his life."

Hugging Fatima, now 14, in a tight embrace, Alvarenga admitted he did not even recognize her.

"She is just so grown up," he whispered.

- 'I don't want him to leave' -

Wearing the "Visit Marshall Islands" T-shirt he brought her from the other side of the world, young Fatima was staying close to the man she, for much of her young life, could not remember well.

"I love him so much, I don't want him to leave again, ever again," smiled the dark-eyed girl, who has her father's wavy hair.

"I am delighted that he is back," chimed in his wife, Arely, 36, to a crowd of reporters. The couple separated several years ago and Alvarenga moved to Mexico.

Alvarenga, who made international headlines with his remarkable story of survival, has cut a frail and disorientated figure in the public limelight.

The claimed boat of Pacific castaway Jose Salvador Alvarenga of El Salvador shortly after his Januar...
The claimed boat of Pacific castaway Jose Salvador Alvarenga of El Salvador shortly after his January 30 arrival on the remote Ebon Atoll in the Marshall Islands, February 6, 2014
, AFP/File

"I don't know if I am going to live here. But I want to thank everyone for all the support they have given me. I still feel sick and tired," he mumbled, dressed in a long-sleeved blue and white shirt.

It was not just a family affair. At least 10 family friends including many who had known Alvarenga as a boy came from miles around to welcome him back, against the longest of odds.

Vicente Saavedra, 87, hugged him tightly and sang Alvarenga a song he had written for him.

"I remember how I knew you/ when you were just a boy; today you are here with us again/ God made it all happen," crooned the elderly family friend.

- Hugs and laughs -

The fisherman returned to his homeland last week following an odyssey that had taken him from Mexico, where he had been living, to the Marshall Islands.

Alvarenga says a 24-year-old companion died during the grueling trip.

Doctors have declared Alvarenga in remarkable physical health despite his ordeal. But they warned last week that he was psychologically weak, prescribing him antidepressants and anxiety medication.

They also said he would need months of outpatient psychiatric followup. Doctors also asked his family not to bring him near the sea.

So for a day at least, after the hugs and laughs and sighs, Alvarenga was really back inside the family home that was in his thoughts when lost at sea for months on end.

More about Marshalls, Salvador, Mexico, Transport, Survival
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