From Mexico to the Marshalls

Castaway survives 14-month Pacific ordeal

Late in 2012, El Salvadorian fisherman Jose Salvador Alvarenga and his Mexican companion Ezequiel Cordoba left southern Mexico in a 24-foot boat for a day of shark fishing. They didn’t return. On January 29, 2014 Alvarenga and his barnacle-encrusted boat washed into Ebon Atoll in the Marshall Islands. His 6,000-mile (9,650 kilometer), 14-month drift across the Pacific Ocean quickly made headlines worldwide. The question at the top of most people’s minds was simple: Could anyone survive such a long ordeal at sea with no provisions other than what they could catch? But somehow Alvarenga had washed into Ebon, and within a short time of his arrival, the owner of Alvarenga’s fishing boat and other fishermen in the Mexican village of Chocohuital, where he lived, confirmed that they had searched for him when he disappeared in late 2012.

The 9,600 kilometer drift: Alvarenga and 23-year old Cordoba departed Costa Azul in southern Mexico for a one-or, at the most, two-day shark fishing trip in their 7.3-meter fiberglass boat, “Camaroneros de la Costa”. But once out of sight of land, their single 75hp engine broke down and a storm blew them further out to sea. The pair caught fish, sea birds that landed on the boat, and turtles—eating all of it raw. While Alvarenga managed, he said his younger companion had difficulty eating raw bird meat. “I tried to get him to hold his nose and eat but he kept vomiting,” said Alvarenga as he demonstrated how he physically attempted to force feed Cordoba while pinching his nose shut so he wouldn’t be nauseated by the smell of raw, decaying meat. But it didn’t work. Cordoba died some weeks into the drift, Alvarenga said.

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