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Ailing castaway receives homecoming fit for a hero

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Jose Salvador Alvarenga speaks to journalists in an ambulance on his way to San Rafael hospital in Santa Tecla, El Salvador on February 11, 2014

Jose Salvador Alvarenga speaks to journalists in an ambulance on his way to San Rafael hospital in Santa Tecla, El Salvador on February 11, 2014

Jose Salvador Alvarenga speaks to journalists in an ambulance on his way to San Rafael hospital in Santa Tecla, El Salvador on February 11, 2014

IT was a welcome fit for a national hero.

Cameras flashed, people cheered and crowds thronged to hear tales of derring-do – but Jose Salvador Alvarenga, pictured, the Pacific castaway, simply mumbled and put his head in his hands.

Ten days after he was presented to a disbelieving world from the remote Marshall Islands, the El Salvador homecoming of the fisherman said to have spent 13 months drifting across the ocean was, in the end, a downbeat affair.

Emerging from San Salvador airport in a wheelchair, tired and overwhelmed, he uttered just a few inaudible words before waving away further questions and being taken by ambulance to hospital.

There, he was reunited with his mother, Maria Julia Alvarenga, and father, Ricardo Orellana, and his 14-year-old daughter Fatima, who embraced him as he lay in his hospital bed.

It was a far cry from the ebullient survivor who triumphantly recounted his voyage in the first days following his discovery in the Marshall Islands.

Since then, the effects of his ordeal have caught up with him, ailments including dehydration, back pain and swollen joints forcing repeated spells in hospital.

Back in his birthplace of Garita Palmera, a small fishing town in western El Salvador, that did not stop residents preparing to celebrate his return.

Neighbours descended on the Alvarenga home with songs, guitars and overflowing dishes, their enthusiasm undented by his absence as they watched his return on television.

"The story of Jose is a story of faith but also a story of struggle for life," said Jaime Miranda, the country's foreign minister. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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