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438 Days: An Extraordinary True Story of Survival at Sea


Jonathan Franklin


Terminé de leer el libro y no tuve que buscar artículos de prensa u otra forma de evidencia, la historia se siente real, dolorosamente real.

Ésta es la historia de Salvador Alvarenga, un salvadoreño que casi una década antes de su naufragio emigró hacia México huyendo de un problema que tuvo en su país de origen. Ahí dejó a su hija bebé y al resto de la familia.

Durante ese tiempo en el exilio estuvo viviendo como pescador de mar, entre fiestas, mujeres y amigos. Se hizo fama de buen compañero y eso le valió de mucho favor en el lugar conocido como Costa Azul.

Acostumbrado a trabajar en frenesíes de pesca para luego gastar todo su dinero en juergas, así zarpó con un compañero durante finales de 2012, no sabía que iba a terminar naufragando por el pacífico hasta enero del 2014.

Es una historia que te engancha de principio a fin, una persona a la deriva en el océano pacífico (que no es pequeño) durante casi 14 meses, aunque este náufrago tuvo que guiarse por el calendario lunar contando las fases y los ciclos. No tenía remos, ni motor, ni mástil, ni vela, ni ancla, ni radios, nada más que un cuchillo, una hielera y la basura que pudo recolectar durante su viaje.

Se aplaude el ingenio que ésta persona demostró intentando mantenerse con vida y aunque no estaba nada preparado para el viaje supo defenderse mejor que la gran mayoría de personas que nos hubiéramos encontrado en una situación similar.

Tal como no le sucedió a su compañero que duró algunos meses, creo que la aceptación a comer todo lo que no sea tóxico pero que si sea nutritivo independientemente de su aspecto juega un factor fundamental en la supervivencia. Como en el momento donde tenían que comer ojos de pescado, que resulta ser una gran fuente de vitamina C, posiblemente yo habría muerto antes que su compañero.

Tampoco tenía los medios para hacer fuego, es decir que no podía cocinar su comida, muchas veces terminaba comiéndose las aves con todo y plumas. El agua dulce era otro recurso que al principio le tomó mucho esfuerzo lograr obtener abastecimiento y estuvo bajo racionamiento constante. Es en éstas situaciones donde se llega a apreciar esas pequeñas cosas en la vida, como unas gafas oscuras para evitar el sol directo, fuego para cocinar, un frasco para almacenar agua de lluvia, área para caminar y ejercitar el cuerpo

Una soledad absoluta, rodeado de agua por todos lados y con la pérdida de su compañero; la soledad pienso que debe ser lo más duro que uno debe afrontar. Sin nadie con quién hablar y nada que hacer, uno se reduce a ser un animal esperando atrapar la siguiente comida o beber el siguiente sorbo de agua o protegerse de los elementos cuando sea necesario y dormir.

La basura fue un factor fundamental en la salvación de Alvarenga, pero viendo más allá de eso se muestra con verdadera alarma la cantidad de basura que generamos. Es tanto que hasta en puntos tan lejanos del pacífico hay basura, dentro de criaturas marinas alejadas de cualquier costa terminan con plásticos dentro de sus estómagos.

Es una historia realmente muy buena, que nos enseña a apreciar las cosas pequeñas de la vida en circunstancias extraordinarias y a ver como tenemos el planeta lleno de basura.

Algunas citas

“Poverty makes you do strange things. Poor people have to do whatever is necessary to get food. If you don’t have a job other than fishing in the ocean, what option do you have?”

“Then Alvarenga began to carve up the meat. He began with the flippers. Cutting into the thick skin was wrenching and slow work. To crack open the shell and reach the thick meat in the tail took an hour of work. Inside the turtle’s stomach he found a collection of garbage including plastic bottle caps as well as clams and barnacles.”

“The concentration of vitamin C in fish eyeballs has long been sought out by shipwrecked sailors seeking to fend off scurvy.”

“Alvarenga was adopting a strategy used by savvy airplane passengers who, during violent turbulence, closely monitor the body language of cabin attendants. As long as the attendants acted normal, so too did the frequent flier. A twitchy or nervous attendant, however, was always cause for deep alarm.”

“On the second pass he saw the beast’s huge eye, an orb as big as his own head. Alvarenga fled to his icebox.”

“Unbeknownst to Alvarenga, he was drifting directly toward Palmyra, which, like many Pacific islands, is rutted with the flotsam and jetsam from US-Japanese military battles during World War II.”

“Zigzag lightning bolts flashed a millisecond of light, and then exploded on the surface. For a moment he was glad not to have a mast. Hiding in the complete darkness of his icebox, Alvarenga saw flashes of light so bright he feared that he was no longer on earth.”

“He peed into a bailing bucket and poured the urine into his mouth. He swished the salty yellow liquid around like mouthwash as he waited for it to warm. Next, he dribbled the liquid into his cupped hand and, tilting his head to the right, filled his infected ear with warm urine. He repeated the process at sunrise, at noon, and at sunset. After six sessions he was cured. ‘My mother had done that to us as children,’ Alvarenga explained. ‘Urine helps to clear up ear infections caused by water getting in there.’”

“Alvarenga clenched his eyes shut and lamented the loss of his sunglasses. Alone at sea, the value of simple possessions was magnified.”

“A triangular fin cut the water and as it hit the bait Alvarenga seized the thirty-pound fish by the dorsal fin and wrestled it over the rail. Quickly he backed off and watched as the confused shark flopped on the deck. ‘I was hungry,’ recalled Alvarenga. ‘I wanted to eat it, so I smashed it in the head.’ The shark snapped, rows of teeth looking for a solid bite.”

“During the course of two full lunar cycles he actually drifted east—back toward Mexico. But now he was churning west at a brisk two miles an hour. Alvarenga admired his wake but quickly made an awful discovery—leaving the eddy meant leaving the bounty. Food began to disappear. He was back in the desert.”

“Mom’s food would rekindle his strength. His daughter’s presence would boost his morale.”

“Alvarenga believed he didn’t need a doctor to diagnose what was wrong. He was suffering from a yearlong tortilla drought. Nearly every day of his journey at sea he had imagined toasted tortillas. During his two weeks in the Marshall Islands he begged for corn tortillas but was told to wait, that no one ate tortillas in the middle of the Pacific.”

”‘All my prayers had been answered, now I had a father.’ Fatima wanted to ask her father dozens of questions. She was curious about his time at sea. What kind of food did he eat? How did he sleep? Was it scary? Had he seen mermaids?”

”‘My favorite game is to ambush him. I hide behind the dresser or in the corner and make sounds. Then I jump out and he starts shaking.’ Fatima never understood the absolute panic she caused her father with her innocent pranks.”

“They coffeed me.”

“The call of the sea was magnetic. It would kill his mother if he did. It might kill him if he didn’t. He was a man of the sea. But he was also a father; for now he’d try his luck on land.”

“He spotted yeasty clouds piled high and dark. He began to cry. I was baffled and asked what was wrong. ‘Those clouds, those clouds, they were the ones that would bring me water. When I saw them I knew I wasn’t going to die.’”

”‘I now appreciate small pleasures,’ Salvador told me. ‘Think about it, I didn’t see another person for over a year! Or a tree. Or a fruit. Or a tortilla and that is the most blessed of all for me. Not one tortilla.’ How many of us appreciate the joys of a simple tortilla?”

“I suffered so much and for so long. Maybe if people read this they will realize that if I can make it, they can make it. Many people suffer only because of what happens in their head; I was also physically being tortured. I had no food. No water. If I can make it so can you. If one depressed person avoids committing suicide then the book is a success. Be strong. Think positive. If you start to think to the contrary, you are headed to failure. Your mind has to be relaxed as you think about survival. Don’t think about death. If you think you are going to die, you will die. You have to survive and think about the future of your life, that life is beautiful! How can you imagine taking your own life? There are challenges and punishment in life but you have to fight!”

“Salvador Alvarenga kept track of time using the cycles of the moon. He was always clear as to how many months he had been adrift.”