Rolando Visbal and his friend Gustavo had plans to go fishing near Puerto Colombia on Friday. When they got down to the boat, though, it had some spark plug issues.
Foiled, they decided to set out the next morning instead after the issue was resolved. Even though the delay was annoying, it became clear it had happened for a reason.
At around 6 a.m. on Saturday morning, they were a little over a mile offshore when they spotted something in the water. Visbal thought it was a log, but as they got closer they realized it was a person.
“Gustavo warned me to be careful with the trunk and I began to turn about 15 degrees to the right, then to my surprise the trunk moved,” Visbal said, according to The Sun, a British news outlet. “I thought it was something supernatural.”
The woman seemed unresponsive as they drew closer and hauled her up onto the boat, and once she was on board she didn’t answer any questions, only cried.
They took her to shore, and she was eventually taken to the hospital, where she was diagnosed with hypothermia after being in the water for eight hours.
But who was she? What was her story? How had she ended up at sea?
The woman was Angelica Gaitan, 46, and according to her daughter, Alejandra Castiblanco, she’d been missing for two years.
According to Gaitan, she suffered at the hands of an abusive husband for 20 years. She said he isolated her from family and friends, locking her in the house and forcing her to use the garden as a bathroom.
“The abuse began in the first pregnancy, he beat me, he violently abused me,” she told Colombia’s RCN Radio, according to the U.K. Metro. “In the second pregnancy the abuse continued and I could not get away from him because the girls were small.
“Many times I reported him but the police took him for 24 hours and when he was in the house again, the assaults returned.”
In 2018, she said he tried to kill her. Having had enough, she managed to escape and took to living on the streets for six months until she found Camino de Fe rescue center.
There, she said, she experienced more abuse in the form of being forbidden to shower and people putting soap in her drinks. She said when her husband moved, she was no longer protected by the shelter, and the police moved her out.
At her wit’s end, she borrowed money for a bus ticket to the sea, and when she got there, she said she jumped in, hoping to end it all.
But it didn’t end there. She floated for hours, recalling a second close brush with death.
“I knew there are many sharks in that area and, I don’t know if in a hallucination I felt that a fin passed very close to me, but it didn’t stop,” she said.
She seems happy to be alive, though, and sees it as a mercy of God that the fishermen found her when they did.
“I was born again, thank God,” she said. “If I had had an opportunity or a help, I would not make that decision. Now I am very grateful because God gave me a new opportunity to move forward.”
Her daughter tells a different story. According to the Metro, she said the tale about her mother being suicidal “due to a past relationship” is just that: a tall tale.
Castiblanco explained that her mother has had a heart condition for years, and began experiencing problems with her mental health after a heart attack.
Castiblanco said she’s currently working to raise money to get her mother to Bogota, where Castiblanco and her sisters live and can better care for their mom.
Though the reasons behind Gaitan’s journey may never be known, the fact of the matter is that she was in the water in rough shape, and those fishermen saved her.
“If we hadn’t had the problem with the spark plug on Friday, we would have gone fishing that day and the woman would be dead at sea,” Visbal said.
“So it turns out that I didn’t catch any fish that day either, but I fished a life. I think this was God’s purpose.”
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