Pacific castaway's story a 'miracle' for his parents

(From left) Fatima Mabea Alvarenga, Jose Ricardo Orellana and Maria Julia Alvarenga in Garita Palmera, 102km west of San Salvador on Feb 4, 2014. The family of Mr Jose Salvador Alvarenga is eagerly anticipating a reunion with the Pacific castawa
(From left) Fatima Mabea Alvarenga, Jose Ricardo Orellana and Maria Julia Alvarenga in Garita Palmera, 102km west of San Salvador on Feb 4, 2014. The family of Mr Jose Salvador Alvarenga is eagerly anticipating a reunion with the Pacific castaway. -- PHOTO: AFP

GARITA PALMERA, El Salvador (AFP) - For Salvadoran couple Ricardo and Maria Julia Alvarenga, the reappearance of their son after his incredible story of survival adrift in the Pacific for 13 months is nothing short of a miracle.

The couple, who last saw their son eight years ago, could barely believe that Mr Jose Salvador Alvarenga, 37, was alive after his claim that he survived a 12,500km odyssey from Mexico to the Marshall Islands on a small boat.

"It is a divine miracle, a sign that God was compassionate with our son's life," said Mrs Alvarenga, 54, with tears of joy.

"I kept thinking that one day he would come back to us, that God wants him to return to our house," she said from the family's home in Garita Palmera, on El Salvador's Pacific coast.

Mr Alvarenga was working as a fisherman in the southern Mexico state of Chiapas until he vanished more than a year ago.

The man said he got lost at sea during a fishing expedition in December 2012, drifting for more than a year until washing up in the faraway Marshall Islands last Thursday, Jan 30, 2014.

Mr Alvarenga said he survived by eating raw fish and birds as well as drinking turtle blood, urine and rainwater for 13 months, but a teenage companion named Xiguel starved to death during the ordeal.

Some experts say it is theoretically possible to survive such a trip under harsh elements, but others were sceptical about the man's story.

His family, however, was just happy to see him again, including his 14-year-old daughter Fatima, who lives with his parents and had not seen him in years. They have yet to speak with him since his reappearance.

"I am all emotional because I am going to get to know him," said Fatima, who had no memory of her father's face until newspapers published pictures of the stocky and bearded man.

The girl's mother left her with Mr Alvarenga's parents and moved to Guatemala.

El Salvador's foreign ministry said it was working with Mexico to repatriate Mr Alvarenga, who was recuperating in a hospital in the Marshall Islands.

Salvadoran authorities said they will give him a provisional passport to help him go home.

The family was mobbed by the media and curious neighbours eager to hear the incredible news.

Mr Alvarenga Sr, 65, said his son left for Mexico 15 years ago to work for a fishing company.

"He was restless when he was young and always liked fishing," said Mr Alvarenga Sr, a farmer who plants yuca, bananas and corn.

Mr Alvarenga would go to the beach with friends and return home with fish he had caught.

In an interview with AFP from his hospital, Mr Alvarenga said he had suicidal thoughts during his trip but was sustained by dreams of reuniting with his family and eating tortilla and chicken.

His mother is eager to oblige.

"We will make him a big meal, but we won't feed him fish because he must be bored of eating that," she said. "We will make him a big plate of meat, beans and cheese to help him recover."