When fisherman Jose Salvador Alvarenga washed up on a Pacific island chain after apparently being lost at sea for a year, he had one big concern: back pay.
Alvarenga said he set off from Mexico in late 2012 on a fishing trip that would net him 85 cents for every pound of shark meat that he hauled back — but he never returned.
Instead, he claims, he spent 14 months adrift in his 24-foot boat, eating fish and other sea creatures to survive, before he landed on Ebon Atoll in the Marshall Islands last week.
Two days after setting foot on dry land, he told an American diplomat who interviewed him he already had his mind set on the future.
"First thing he wants to do: Get back to Mexico to get paid by Willy [his boss} for all of his time on the boat," the embassy official wrote in a memo.
It wasn't clear why he thought he was entitled to pay when he usually collected for the amount he sold.
Alvarenga's parents in El Salvador say that when he was growing up, they hoped he would become a baker. But he had his heart set on a life at sea.
"I used to tell him be careful out there," his mother, Maria Julia Alvarenga, told NBC partner Telemundo. "But he said, 'Don't worry mom, nothing is going to happen to me."
Frustrated with his limited options for work in El Salvador, he left for Mexico at age 22. He had not been back to El Salvador in years, although he has a 14-year-old daughter there.
"I did not want him to go, but he assured me he was going to come back," his mother said.
His family is preparing a hero's homecoming, but officials on the Marshalls Island say his health is too precarious for him to travel right now.
Telemundo's Angie Sandoval contributed to this story.
First published February 6 2014, 10:50 AM