Salvador Alvarenga and Ezequiel Cordoba went fishing in November 2012. After a fierce storm washed their boat out to sea, they were presumed dead.
But Salvador was an experienced captain. By bailing out water and making their boat lighter, dumping the 500kg of fish that they had caught, he and 22-year-old crew-mate Ezequiel survived the storm.
They found themselves miles out to sea, with a broken motor and no way to get themselves back to shore. All they could do was drift, and – after two days of desperate searching – the coast guard had given up looking for them.
The duo survived by catching fish, turtles and sea birds, and eating them raw. With no rain since the storm that stranded them, all they could initially drink was turtle blood, and their own urine. They sheltered from the sun in the box that had once held their catch, and huddled together for warmth at night.
After months drifting, Cordoba became ill from eating a raw seagull. Delirious and depressed, he began to refuse all food. Just a few days later, he died.
Initially, Salvador couldn’t accept this tragedy. He would talk to the body, asking “how do you feel? How was your sleep?”, and answering his own questions: “I slept good, and you? Have you had breakfast?”
Eventually, he stripped the body, and let it slip into the ocean.
Now, drifting alone in an empty boat, all Salvador had was his imagination, and his will to survive, to keep him going. While he would shout and scream and wave every time he saw another boat, his own was too small to be spotted. He began to lose hope, and comforted himself with the idea that his next destination would be heaven.
But this wasn’t to be. Salvador washed up on the shore of Ebon Atoll – in the Marshall Islands – 6700 miles away from Mexico, where he had set off. He had been drifting across the Pacific for 14 months.
Physically emaciated when he was found, Salvador’s tissue had been deprived of fresh water for so long that it soaked up whatever it could find. His diet of raw fish had infected his liver with parasites, and he was severely anaemic.
Understandably, he was terrified of the water.
As he began to regain his health, Salvador was reunited with his family. Fulfilling a promise he had made to Ezequiel, he went to Mexico, and spent two hours talking with his late crew-mate’s mother.
For a long time, he needed constant company – never wanting to be left alone. He slept with the lights on, but when it came to interacting with people, he would hide his face and couldn’t make eye contact.
Racked with guilt that he had lived when Ezequiel did not, he struggled to celebrate his survival.
But, speaking to The Guardian, Salvador explained how he was able to overcome his fears, and embrace life once again. He said:
“I suffered hunger, thirst and an extreme loneliness, and didn’t take my life. You only get one chance to live – so appreciate it.”