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Salvadoran man who says he drifted across Pacific Ocean for over a year heads home

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    FILE - In this Feb. 3, 2014 file photo provided by the Marshall Islands Foreign Affairs Department, a man identifying himself as Jose Salvador Alvarenga sits on a couch in Majuro in the Marshall Islands, after he was rescued from being washed ashore on the tiny atoll of Ebon in the Pacific Ocean. The Salvadoran man who says he spent more than a year drifting across the Pacific Ocean before making landfall in the Marshall Islands is still too weak to travel and will remain in the island nation for a while longer, an official said Saturday, Feb. 8, 2014. (AP Photo/Foreign Affairs Department The Marshall Islands, Gee Bing, File) (The Associated Press)

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    In this video image taken from AP video, Diego Dalton, an official with El Salvador’s embassy in Tokyo, gives a statement in Majuro, Marshall Islands Saturday, Feb. 8, 2014. Jose Salvador Alvarenga, a Salvadoran man, who says he spent more than a year drifting across the Pacific Ocean before making landfall in the Marshall Islands is still too weak to travel and will remain in the island nation for a while longer, Dalton said Saturday. (AP Photo/Miki Toda, AP Video) (The Associated Press)

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    Security personnel guard in front of Jose Salvador Alvarenga's hotel room, seen between the securities, at the Marshall Islands Resort, in Majuro, Sunday, Feb. 9, 2014. The Salvadoran man who says he spent more than a year drifting across the Pacific Ocean before making landfall in the Marshall Islands is too weak to travel and will remain in the island nation for a while, an official said Saturday. (AP Photo/Miki Toda) (The Associated Press)

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    This exterior photo shows the Marshall Islands Resorts hotel where Jose Salvador Alvarenga stays in a room, seen at right on the second floor, in Majuro, Marshall Islands, Sunday, Feb. 9, 2014. The Salvadoran man who says he spent more than a year drifting across the Pacific Ocean before making landfall in the Marshall Islands is too weak to travel and will remain in the island nation for a while, an official said Saturday. (AP Photo/Miki Toda) (The Associated Press)

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    This exterior photo shows the Marshall Islands Resorts hotel where Jose Salvador Alvarenga stays in a room, seen at second right on the second floor, in Majuro, Marshall Islands, Sunday, Feb. 9, 2014. The Salvadoran man who says he spent more than a year drifting across the Pacific Ocean before making landfall in the Marshall Islands is too weak to travel and will remain in the island nation for a while, an official said Saturday. (AP Photo/Miki Toda) (The Associated Press)

A Salvadoran man who says he drifted in an open boat across the Pacific for more than a year thanked people in the Marshall Islands for taking care of him and said he was "doing very well" before starting his journey home Monday.

Clean-shaven and walking without assistance at the airport, Jose Salvador Alvarenga spoke Spanish in a soft voice. Marshall Islands President Christopher Loeak came to bid him farewell.

"Thank you for the support, the support by your people,"Alvarenga said. "I am doing very well."

He told officials during his two-week recuperation at the hospital and a hotel in the capital, Majuro, that he left Mexico in late 2012 with another fisherman, who later died, when a storm threw them off course and he drifted across 6,500 miles of open ocean. He said he survived on fish, birds and turtles.

About 50 officials, volunteers and reporters gathered at the airport to see him off. He flew out first to Hawaii and then on to El Salvador be reunited with his family.

Alvarenga, accompanied by Diego Dalton, an official from the El Salvador's embassy in Tokyo, said that people of the Marshall Islands were "very good" to him, and called them "my very good friends."

Alvarenga's spritely appearance a week ago while greeting hundreds of well-wishers in Majuro had many questioning his story. But he looked much weaker Thursday during a brief public appearance at the hotel, and had to be assisted into the room by two people while others stood by ready to help.

His family in El Salvador had spoken to him by phone since the story broke out. Alvarenga's 14-year-old daughter, Fatima, said last week that she didn't remember ever seeing her father, who left El Salvador when she was just over a year old.