Stories

The Story of the Real-Life Cast Away: How One Man Survived 438 Days at Sea

How many of you have watched the blockbuster hit, Castaway? This drama sees Tom Hanks act out the tale of a man who gets lost on a remote island in the Pacific Ocean. This story may have been 100% fictional, but years later, it appears something very similar occurred in the real world! Introducing you all to the fascinating case of Jose Salvador Alvarenga.

Image: CBS News

What started out as a fishing trip that had the potential of earning this man the big bucks, eventually turned into a living nightmare. A sudden shift in weather conditions had sent the fisherman way off course, before his days at sea eventually turned to weeks, months, and then years. He may have found his way back to land, but it wasn’t without a fight! Here’s Jose’s story.

A Brand New Adventure

We bet you’re wondering, how could a tale as extraordinary as this even begin? Let us break it down for you. For the past few years, Mr. Alvarenga had a very estranged relationship with both his parents and young daughter. With few to turn to, the Mexican focused his attention on one of his biggest passions, fishing.

Image: Latin Times

With four years of professional fishing experience, Jose knew he was ready to take to the seas once again. It wasn’t all for fun and games though, this guy had a business plan! Once he’d hit the ocean, the fisherman had dreams of discovering pretty hefty fish that would earn him financial rewards at the market. It was an exciting plan, and what did he have to lose?

In Search for a Partner

With the amount of experience Mr. Alvarenga had received, he knew just a little about the pitfalls of his plan! Primarily, the fisherman was concerned about the dangers of tackling such a large project alone, so he needed to sort himself some company. His regular partner, Ray Perez, was unavailable; so Jose turned to plan B!

Image: CBS News

It was around the time of his hunt for a fishing partner that Jose stumbled upon Ezequiel Cordoba. The 24-year-old may have had limited experience, but he was willing to join Alvarenga on his sailing mission, and that was enough for him to approve! You could say, it was fishing partner-style love at first sight.

The Blueprint Plan

With no time to waste, Mr. Alvarenga and Cordoba got straight ahead with making their dreams of adventure a reality. After hours and hours of planning, a time limit was eventually set! With all things considered, the pair calculated that their money-making mission should take approximately 30 hours at sea.

Image: Mirror

30 hours is a while to spend in the deep ocean, but Jose was a professional! He wanted to allow time to get enough fish, for big cash results. Having said this, time seemed to be about the only thing Alvarenga had prepared for. Being dry season, Jose assumed the weather would be pleasant, and he failed to do proper equipment checks. If only we could’ve said something!

A Pleasant Start

This was it! November 17th, 2012 was finally here. The duo headed off from Mexico on their fishing trip quicker than you could say Alvarenga, and they couldn’t have had better luck. The skies were clear, and the underwater creatures were out in full force! These perfect conditions had meant Jose’s plan to stock up on the ocean’s produce could run smoothly.

Image: Yahoo

Did the team catch much seafood on their journey? You bet they did! During the daylight hours, Alvarenga and Cordoba had successfully managed to get their hands on over 1000 pounds of fish; which meant a huge paycheck was hopefully headed their way. Sadly, the pair shouldn’t have got their hopes up, as it wasn’t long before disaster struck.

Storms Brewing

Here comes the biggest spanner in the works no one was expecting. As clouds began to cover the sky, it didn’t take too long for a full-fledged storm to hit the seas. Totally bewildered, Alvarenga and Cordoba were left with limited options to overcome their conditions. After all, it wasn’t part of their plan.

Image: Radio Ambulante

What was the biggest concern of all? The vessel this pair had been sailing on was uncovered, and threats of a flood were growing and growing. Moments later, and the battle between boat and storm was over. The storm had taken full control of this tiny vehicle, and Jose and Ezequiel were completely off track.

Panicking Partners

As a seasoned fisherman, Jose was able to keep his calm during the storm. Of course, the harsh conditions were anything but favorable, but this guy was a professional! He knew there’d be a logical way out of the mess. Sadly, the same couldn’t be said for his younger, less experienced co-sailer, Ezequiel.

Image: Toronto Star

What was Mr. Cordoba’s first instinct in this troubling situation? To panic! This may seem like a very hasty way to react, but we’d probably do the exact same. With such little experience behind him, it was tricky for the 24-year-old to see a way out. Just about every possible tragedy entered this young man’s mind during the whole ordeal.

Keeping a Cool Head

Jose to the rescue! Despite his partner’s reactions, Mr. Alvarenga was keen to get them out of their rut. Consulting every trick he’d learned in the fisherman’s book, this man found the strength to navigate the boat to a safer spot. It wasn’t easy, but the team was finally beginning to turn their situation around!

Image: Insta Saver

Where there’s a will, there’s a way. Once he had gathered his thoughts and hope was in sight, Jose used the radio to get in contact with his boss, Willy. From this exchange, it was agreed that a rescue party would come, and take Jose and his partner back home. If only this plan had really materialized!

Technical Difficulties

The tragedies don’t quite end just yet. The search party spent 2 full days looking for the troubled fishermen, but they had no luck and eventually returned home, unsuccessful. We wonder, why was it so hard to capture Jose and Ezequiel? It turns out, things were going from bad to worse with their small, unequipped fishing boat.

Image: NBC News

Not only had the engine completely packed up, leaving the two men with no option but to let the sea guide their journey, but the GPS was completely soaked through from the storm. With no way of letting people know their exact location, getting saved was a virtually impossible task; even if it did consist of multiple boats and aircraft!

No New Evidence

It may have been just a short call, but Jose’s exchange with his boss was the last time he would speak with someone other than Cordoba for a long, long time. News had quickly spread to Jose’s hometown about his current situation and the locals kept their eyes and ears peeled for any updates, but it was a lost cause.

Image: The Straits Times

Days turned into weeks, weeks turned to months, and before you know it, a year had passed without anyone hearing from the fisherman and his young companion. It didn’t take long for people to consider the fact that they’d never see their neighbor again. It was a bitter thought that they tried hard not to believe, but somehow the issue couldn’t be avoided.

Facing New Tasks

The sudden realization that no one was going to come to their rescue hit Jose and Ezequiel like a ton of bricks, but the show had to go on. In an attempt to make the most out of their poor situation, Jose decided to lighten their load, to give their engine-less trail along the sea less likelihood of sinking.

Image: NBC News

How did they reduce the weight? By throwing out all of their captured fish, ice and spare gasoline. It may have been a little upsetting for Alvarenga to throw away his dreams of selling his undersea produce on the market for thousands, but his survival was way more important. A rocky boat amid a storm was simply not an option.

Making a Living

The pair planned their trip to be over in a matter of hours, so they hadn’t exactly packed a feast full of food and water. Alongside turtles and flying fish, these creatures became the pair’s only source of food. So, what about water? With fears of dehydration high, the teammates turned everywhere to get some fluids. Around the 2 week mark, things started looking up.

Image: Sky News

What was their savior? Rainfall! As soon as the heavens began to open, Jose rushed to deck out the boat in a way to store the fresh water. Buckets upon buckets collected the rainfall, and Jose couldn’t help but smile at the prospect of finally getting a decent drink. It’s moments like these that really make us feel grateful for what we’ve got!

One Member Short

A diet of raw fish in blistering weather isn’t luxury living, and we’re not crazy to assume the sailor’s health was lowering at record-breaking speeds. Ezequiel’s wellbeing declined further, and it wasn’t long before the trip became a one-man job. After losing his partner, Jose felt pressure to keep things going. In the meantime, locals kept the teammates in their thoughts

Image: Mirror

We can’t commend Jose’s bravery enough! It took time, but Alvarenga soon came to terms with the fact that he was continuing his mission alone. He proceeded, spurred on by the thought that one day he would reach safety. Talk about a motivator! From this point on for the fisherman hard work ensued, day in and day out.

Fact or Fiction

Over time, Jose grew lonely, and with that, his mental state suffered. Hallucinations became the norm, and the day he saw a piece of land, he couldn’t be sure whether it was his mind playing tricks on him. Jose stared, and stared and stared. The image of a far-off island wasn’t disappearing, which was rare for hallucinations. Could this really have been a way out?

Image: Fox 8

Keen to get to the bottom of things, Jose focused on getting to the potential island. Now, here’s where things start getting real. Just an hour had passed before he hit the shore, and for the first time in 438 days, the man jumped off the boat, and onto real-life land! We can only imagine the thoughts jumping through Jose’s mind at this time.

On Dry Land

Let’s bring in the facts for you. Taking his first steps on the tranquil beach of Mashall Islands, Jose had entered a state of hysteria; can you really blame him? It wasn’t long before the local members of this island stumbled upon the castaway. Emi and Russell were pretty dumbfounded to see Jose on their private island, but they welcomed the new guest with open arms.

Image: NZ Herald

After inviting the stranger into their home, it was clear to Emi and Russell that Jose hadn’t even a clue where he was in the world, but it didn’t matter! His nightmare out at sea was over, and that was enough reassurance for him. After returning back to his hometown (a little later than expected!) Jose quickly gained a busy schedule.

Everyone Wanted a Piece

News about the man who was lost out at sea for 438 had spread like wildfire in Jose’s hometown. As you can imagine, everyone wanted to hear the man out. It didn’t take long for the media to travel across the globe to grab an interview with the hero. It was an extraordinary tale, to say the least, and it needed to get covered.

Image: The Tico Times

One day, you’re a lone traveler in the middle of nowhere, the next, you’re a local celebrity in hot pursuit! Because the tragedy was still so fresh, Alvarenga was reluctant on sharing the entirety of his stories to news reporters he’d never met before. Instead, the fisherman found a more personal way to jot down his adventure.

Putting It on Paper

Jose may not have considered himself much of a writer before his expedition out at sea, but now, it seemed like the most logical option! In order to get everyone who was interested in-the-know, a book was released detailing the entire tragic event, named “498 Days at Sea.” Believe us, it would’ve saved the man a lot of time having to explain it out to people!

Deseret News

The successes came rolling in. Not only did the book deal equip Jose with a little money after his experience, but it acted as a form of healing, too. Jotting down every thought, memory, exchange, and hurdle into the novel allowed the fisherman to come to terms with what had really happened. It was like his very own, personal version of attending therapy!

The Biggest Reunion

While it must have been stressful for Jose to be met by tons and tons of reporters edging their way into his world, getting him to share the most troubling time of his life with them, there was one positive to their bombardment! What was it? News of the man had spread quickly, and his family had obviously heard about what happened.

Despite their unsteady relationship, Jose’s parents were desperate to reunite with their son and rekindle the bond that had been so tragically lost before. Being a hot topic for press reporters now, cameramen flocked in their dozens to capture the heartwarming moment these relatives reunited for the first time. There wasn’t a dry eye in the room!

Keeping His Promise

Before this whole ordeal with his parents had even happened, Jose was met with the realization that he had a big task he needed to carry out. You see, during their time together out at sea, Alvarenga had made a pact with his young companion, Ezequiel, that whoever survived the journey would live to tell their tale to each other’s parents. So, that’s exactly what he did!

Image: BrainSharper

Jose and Ezequiel may have started off as brief acquaintances, but by the end, their bond was unbreakable. As soon as his full strength had recovered, Alvarenga took the trip up to Mexico to visit Mr. Cordoba’s mother, Ana Rosa. Their meeting lasted hours, as Jose was adamant about answering every possible question the woman could think of.

Becoming a Father Again

This story gets more heartwarming as it continues! By this point, the media had gained a lot of attention in Jose’s story, and they wanted to find out as much about the Mexican man as they possibly could. For starters, they discovered that Jose wasn’t, in fact, a Mexican at all, but had fled to the country from his past home in El Salvador.

Image: Mirror

Get ready for an extreme act of kindness! As soon as officials learned of Jose’s move, the United States funded a trip for the fisherman to return to his original dwellings in El Salvador. Here, the local reunited with his estranged daughter for the first time in eight years. It was just like a scene taken out of a movie!

The Coping Mechanism

We bet you’re all wondering, how did Jose Alvarenga manage to cope in such extreme solitude? Most of us tend to go a little stir crazy after spending an hour alone, let alone 438 days! During interviews with the recovering fisherman, this question seemed to pop up on more than one occasion. So, what did Jose answer it with?

Image: South China Morning Post

It’s all about using your imagination. During his time alone at sea, Alvarenga got deep into his thoughts, and let the fantasies run wild! As a way of distracting himself from the terrors, Jose would frequently get lost in a made-up world, imagining he was eating his favorite foods, and visiting some of the most beautiful sites the world had to offer.

A Huge Life Lesson

We’ll give credit where it’s due here! Jose did a tremendous job of getting back on the mend after his traumatizing journey. We’re sure it could have been easy for the man to let his past experiences get the better of him, but he wanted to make his no-longer estranged family proud of him, by getting up and moving on.

Today, Alvarenga uses his public status to send a moral message to anyone in need of it. No matter how troubling your circumstances may be, this fisherman urges people to keep fighting. Jose battled with issues of hunger and loneliness out at sea, yet he persevered on. You only get one chance in this lifetime, so there are no excuses but to make it an amazing one!

Be Prepared

Another moral message thousands of followers have taken out of Jose’s experience is to always prepare yourself for the worst. We hate to dwell on things, but think about it: if Alvarenga and Ezequiel had taken into account poor weather conditions and given their equipment the full checks, they may have completed their journey in the planned time of 30 hours.

Image: Toronto Star

Never underestimate anything, it could save your life! Today, people that have heard even a little about Jose Alvarenga’s journey ensure that they’ve considered every possible outcome before getting involved in a serious project. So, in some ways, the fisherman is now seen as a public role model!

Making PrepperCon

The successes for this lone survivor don’t end just yet! Back in 2017, Mr. Alvarenga received the invitation to show his face at PrepperCon. What is this? A convention that teaches audiences about national disaster preparedness and survival. Hearing out Jose’s tale, we can’t help but feel the man would’ve been the perfect guest for the event!

Image: Welt

Another day, another life lesson shared! During his time at the convention, Jose shared his story once again about how he survived at sea using his initiative, and the constant reminder to never give up. We’re sure there were just a few members of the audience left touched at his remarkable story.

Giving It Another Go

We have to admit, there doesn’t seem to be a limit on Mr. Alvarenga’s strength and bravery. For those reasons, the following information we’re about to provide may be big, but it’s nothing we wouldn’t expect from the El Salvador native! In 2015, talks began to surface about Jose’s decision to do give his passion another shot.

Image: El Pais

That’s right, a couple of conversations with Jose had revealed that the man was keen to get back out at sea, and continue his fishing mission! Whether this is a genuine goal or simply a thought in the back of his mind, we can’t commend Mr. Alvarenga’s optimism enough. Could you return after a past like his?