Jose Salvador Alvarenga update: Family awaits return to El Salvador

The house where Jose Salvador Alvarenga's family lives is decorated for a homecoming.

Balloons and ribbons are hung, and a "Welcome Home" banner is strung up outside on a palm tree archway. A heart-shaped decoration made by his niece says, "May God bless you."

Images of the bearded and bedraggled castaway, who says he survived more than a year adrift at sea, drew global attention as word of his dramatic rescue spread. But it's been eight years since his mother last looked into his eyes.

As the years passed after his last visit to this coastal town in El Salvador, his family knew only that he was working as a fisherman somewhere in Mexico, nothing more.

Until word reached them that he'd turned up half a world away in the Marshall Islands.

After more than a week undergoing health checkups and recounting his story to officials in the Pacific island nation, Alvarenga is now clean-shaven and gaining strength. And he's expected to arrive in El Salvador on Tuesday.

As she awaited his return this week, his mother, Julia Alvarenga, said she'd been praying for him ever since his last visit.

"That was the only hope I had all this time," she said. "I would pray to God, and I won't lie to you, I was crying; but I never lost my faith."

Alvarenga has said he set off in late 2012 from Mexico on what was supposed to be a one-day fishing expedition. But he and a 23-year-old companion were blown off course by northerly winds and then caught in a storm, eventually losing the use of their engines. They had no radio signal to report their plight, he said.

Alvarenga said that four weeks into their drift, his companion died of starvation because he refused to eat raw birds and turtles. Eventually, he threw the body overboard.

His claims about his time stranded at sea have garnered widespread skepticism about how he could survive the more than 6,000-mile trek across the open ocean. But officials in the Marshall Islands have said repeatedly that they have no reason to doubt the story.

He is expected to arrive in San Salvador, his native nation's capital, on a United Airlines flight from Los Angeles around 7:50 p.m., the Salvadoran Foreign Ministry says.

From there, presumably, Alvarenga will finally go back home to Garita Palmera.

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