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Posted: January 08, 2016

Castaway details how he survived 438 days lost at sea

By Cox Media Group National Content Desk

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Salvador Alvarenga made his living as a shark fisherman in Costa Azul, Mexico.

He planned a two-day fishing trip with his friend Ezequiel Córdoba.

Alvarenga knew a storm would come during that time, but he wasn’t concerned that his 25-foot fishing boat couldn’t handle it. The boat was small but maneuverable, made out of fiberglass.

"It wasn't the storm that was the problem," Alvarenga told CNN. "My engine gave out."

The storm caused rough seas for seven days.

In the midst of it, Alvarenga lost his radio and fishing gear. The men only had an icebox to put their fish in and a bucket to scoop water out of the boat.

Twenty-two-year-old Córdoba was tossed into the sea and had to be pulled back in by 35-year-old Alvarenga.

Once the storm passed, the pair were far from Mexico.

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“We didn't think about hunger at first. It was the thirst,” Alvarenga said. “We had to drink our own urine after the storm. It wasn't until a month later that we finally got some rain water."

The men had to be resourceful for something to drink. Alvarenga would catch birds that rested on the boat in the middle of the ocean.

"We cut their throats and drank their blood,” Alvarenga said. “It made us feel better."

Córdoba and Alvarenga ate all they could of the birds they caught, except for the stomachs.

The men used the ocean as a food source. They spaced out out the days with different food sources because the ocean was unpredictable. Some days they ate fish. Other days small sharks, seaweed or sea turtles.

The pair tried to remain patient, but it was difficult for Córdoba to do.

"He would cry a lot, talking about his mama, eating tortillas and drinking something cold. I helped him as much as I could. I would hug him. I told him, 'We'll be rescued soon. We'll hit an island soon.' But he would sometimes get violent, screaming that we were going to die."

Córdoba grew less impatient as his health declined. He died while he and Alvarenga took cover under the icebox while it rained.

"We said our goodbyes,” Alvarenga said. “He wasn't in pain. He was calm. He didn't suffer."

Alvarenga grew jealous of Córdoba as he continued to be lost at sea alone. He recalls asking his friend’s corpse, “Why wasn't it both of us? Why am I the one who continues to suffer?"

Alvarenga considered suicide, but his faith in God stopped him. He prayed and sang hymns while he waited on the boat, hoping a passing ship would see him, but none came.

"I would signal them and nothing would happen," he said. "But I thought God will determine which boat will save me."

Alvarenga knew he was near land when he saw mountains. He jumped out the boat and swam to shore.

"I hit the ground first,” he said. "My boat hit the ground second. I felt the waves, I felt the sand, and I felt the shore. I was so happy that I fainted on the sand. I didn't care if I died at that point. I was so relieved. I knew at that point I didn't have to eat any more fish if I didn't want to."

Residents on what was one of the  Marshall Island did not speak Spanish, so Alvarenga communicated nonverbally. He was given water but began to bloat and was taken to the hospital.

Alvarenga faced heavy media attention and skeptics from his story, but it is the ocean that bothers him the most.

"I'm afraid," he says. "There are still nights when I can't sleep. The ocean keeps haunting me."

Alvarenga sees a therapist, who is encouraging him to get back in the water.

Despite Alvarenga’s past and current challenges, he is grateful.

"I'm happy to be alive. I'm happy to be with my family. I'm proud to be what I am. I am simply glad I'm here."



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