Fish, birds, turtles – anything he could get hold of, he would kill with his bare hands. Jose told his rescuers he even drank turtle blood to stay alive during the 16 months he says he was adrift at sea. When his boat finally washed up at Ebon Atoll on Thursday, halfway between Hawaii and Australia, he was emaciated and barely able to walk. Ola Fjeldstad, a Norwegian anthropology student who’s doing research in the Marshall Islands, said Jose’s fiberglass boat bore the signs of the harrowing 7,500-mile detour:
Ola Fjeldstad, anthropology student:We first found his boat, which was probably a 24-footer, engine broken, grown over with shells and other sea animals. And it had a live baby bird, a dead turtle, some turtle shells, fish leftovers and it was in pretty bad condition.
And there’s tragedy in this tale. There were two people on the boat when it set off from Mexico to El Salvador in September 2012, but Jose said his companion had died several months earlier. Little is known about the circumstances, as so far he’s had to draw pictures to communicate with people on the remote Pacific island because they can’t understand Spanish. Locals have been nursing the long-haired, bearded stranger back to health and Ola Fjeldstad says Jose’s doing much better:
Ola Fjeldstad, anthropology student:He’s gained a lot of strength. He’s been eating a lot of food, fish, rice, fruit and drinking coffee. He’s in a lot better shape now. He’s able to walk around by himself. He’s cracking jokes!
There are good reasons to be cheerful; had he missed the Marshall Islands, it could have been another 1,000 or so miles before Jose would have had any hope of hitting land again.