It had been nearly 20 years since John Spezia walked away from his Steamboat Springs life for that long. But it was time.
Last summer, Spezia left for the Southern Hemisphere for a 2 1/2 month exploration of the landscape and the people who lived there.
¤ "Sea Level of Change" slideshow of sea kayak trip through Tonga and Fiji with John Spezia ¤ 7 p.m. Wednesday ¤ 300 Bogue Hall on the CMC campus ¤ Free ¤ 870-4432
Spezia visited Fiji, Tonga and New Zealand by kayak.
A professor of oceanography and human ecology at Colorado Mountain College, he traveled with a scientific and political eye.
While spending months kayaking from island to island, Spezia noticed evidence of global warming.
"I can show you slides of whole islands that are gone," he said.
On Wednesday, Spezia will show slides from his journey, focusing on this evidence and on the ways the Fijians and Tongans have been able to live on limited resources for thousands of years.
Steamboat could learn a lot from these people, he said. "There is one island in Tonga that is 1.8 square miles and has supported a population of a couple hundred people for 3,000 years."
For some perspective, 1.8 square miles is about the size of Central Park Plaza.
"Could we say that about ourselves?" he said. "The way these people live was a real inspiration to me."
While he was traveling, Spezia made an effort to camp on beaches, stay with villagers or stay at resorts that were tied to the local economy.
"There are hostels there, but usually, it's just like being in America," he said.
Spezia's trip was divided into three parts. The original plane ticket was for New Zealand, where the two travelers spent a month and a half paddling. But the ticket allowed for a stopover in Fiji, allowing him to stay in Fiji for two weeks and in Tonga for two weeks.
"Kayaking is the way the people on these islands used to travel," Spezia said. "They had instant sympathy for our journey."
He made the journey with a folding sea kayak and a downwind sail.
The winds controlled much of the journey -- keeping him on the Northwest side of the island chain and sometimes keeping him land-bound for days at time. Being stranded wasn't a problem. It gave Spezia a chance to get to know the villagers where he was staying.
"They were such incredible people," he said. On several occasions, he helped gather food for meals so he could eat with villagers. For one meal, he harvested some cassava, yams and taro and some algae. They made coconut milk and collected snails and hot red peppers. "Then, we sat in the shade and ate with our hosts."
After 2 1/2 months abroad, Spezia ret--urned to Steamboat and to his job at CMC. He made the transition easier by bringing what he learned to the classroom.
"I share my experiences instead of just using books," he said. "Firsthand knowledge is better than secondhand knowledge, and between every word that I tell you, there are a thousand pictures."