Castaway begins journey home from Marshall Islands, stops in Hawaii

6:20 PM, Feb 10, 2014   |    comments
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Majuro, Marshall Islands (CNN) -- When islanders first got a glimpse of Jose Salvador Alvarenga, they saw an extremely weak man wearing only tattered underwear.

On his battered boat, a live bird was tethered by its foot -- narrowly missing becoming his next meal.

And as he recounted his story, faster than his rescuers could comprehend, Alvarenga ate like he hadn't had a full meal in months.

As crazy as it sounds, his tale just might be true after all.

New details from the day Alvarenga mysteriously turned up in the Marshall Islands appear to lend weight to his story of drifting across the Pacific Ocean for 13 months.

It was a rainy, windy day on Ebon, the atoll where Alvarenga was found January 30.

Mayor Ione deBrum was first alerted to the mysterious visitor when a boy biked to her office from the other side of the island. The boy had been dispatched by Amy Libokmeto and Russell Laikedrik -- the islanders who first spotted Alvarenga, yelling and waving a knife from one island over.

Libokmeto motioned for him to drop the knife, and then the pair sprang into action, sending word to the mayor and providing Alvarenga with food, water and clean clothes, deBrum told CNN.

Alvarenga inhaled pancake after pancake as he and his rescuers communicated with each other using a mix of charades and hand-drawn pictures. DeBrum's son even helped translate the Salvadoran's story, using Spanish skills learned entirely from the animated children's series "Dora the Explorer."

The story was beyond belief for many.

Alvarenga said he set off in late 2012 from Mexico on what was supposed to be a one-day fishing expedition. But he and a teenage companion were blown off-course by northerly winds and then caught in a storm, eventually losing the use of their engines. They had no radio signal to report their plight, he said.

Alvarenga said that four weeks into their drift, his companion died of starvation because he refused to eat raw birds and turtles. Eventually, he threw the body overboard.

Alvarenga's claims have garnered widespread skepticism about how he could survive the more than 6,000-mile trek across the open ocean. But officials in the Marshall Islands have said repeatedly they have no reason to doubt the story.

After more than a week on the island, Alvarenga began his journey home Monday.

He posed for photos with dignitaries from the Marshall Islands before boarding a plane headed for Hawaii.

Appearing frail but in good spirits, he was taken to the plane in a wheelchair and helped up the stairs by two people.

He said that he was very emotional, that he was feeling good and that he was looking forward to getting home.

Plans for his repatriation to El Salvador were postponed last week after his health took a turn for the worse. But Marshall Islands Foreign Minister Phillip Muller said Monday that the castaway was in good health and ready to travel. His flight from Amata Kabua International Airport arrived in Honolulu Monday.

He is expected to continue his journey and arrive in El Salvador on Tuesday.

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