Launching Canoes for Peru

Fall 2014 issue

A friendship between a Peruvian family and a Mount Royal Ecotourism professor sparks a movement that will have Canadian canoes paddling down river in the Amazon by 2015.

Words by Adam Thurston

Canoes for Peru film screening in 2015

Coming out of the Canoes for Peru project, first introduced in Fall 2014 Summit, is the film aptly named Canoes for Peru, a documentary produced by a young film crew out of New Zealand, who accompanied Joe Pavelka, professor, Bachelor of Applied Ecotourism and Outdoor Leadership (ETOL) program, and the Canoes for Peru MRU group for the month-long excursion in 2014. 

The film will be screened on Nov. 19, 2015 at the ETOL Film Night at the Plaza Theatre in Kensington. The event is open to the public, for more information check out the ETOL facebook group.

The team hopes to eventually get Canoes for Peru into approximately 25 film festivals around the globe. It is already scheduled for the RapidMedia Paddling Film Festival later in 2015.  The goal of the documentary is to raise awareness and funds for Canoes to Peru initiatives.


  • Capital: Lima
  • Population: 28,674,757
  • Ethnic groups:
  • Amerindian 45%
  • Mestizo 37%
  • White 15%
  • Black, Asian, or other 3%
  • Agricultural products: potatoes, wheat, seed, cotton, coffee, maize, rice, beans, sugar cane, fishing
  • Average life expectancy at birth:
  • male: 68.33 years - female:72.04 years
  • Fertility rate: 2.46 children born/woman
  • Religions: Roman Catholic 81%, Seventh Day Adventist 1.4%, other Christian 0.7%, other 0.6%, unspecified or none 16.3%
  • Languages: Spanish, Quechua, Aymara, many indigenous dialects
  • Gross Domestic Product per capita: $6,600
  • Population below poverty line: 54%

Courtesy of Joe Pavelka

Joe Pavelka makes friends wherever he goes. The Mount Royal associate professor and coordinator of the Bachelor of Applied Ecotourism and Outdoor Leadership (ETOL) program has a calm, worldly nature that suggests he can fit in just about anywhere. From Belize and Mexico to the Yukon and North West Territories, Pavelka, PhD, has operated field schools (which bring Mount Royal students to select areas across the globe) throughout these locals.

One of his latest endeavours is concentrated on the Manu National Park region of Peru. Pavelka is spearheading an initiative in the area called Canoes for Peru, which will create a partnership between Mount Royal and a Peruvian family.

The goal of the program is to bring 12 canoes and related gear to Manu National Park by May of 2015. The boats will be delivered to the family, who own and operate Bonanza Tours, the only locally-owned and operated tour business in the region. The Huamani family will incorporate the canoes into their eco-tours down the Alto Madre Rio River, which flows from the eastern slopes of the Andes into the Amazon.

“By focusing on one region and creating connections and friendships, we have been able to open up a number of amazing opportunities for our students to be part of,” Pavelka says. “The locals begin to trust you enough to also dream with you about amazing possibilities for the area.”

The intended outcome of the program is to bring immediate economic benefits to the region, create awareness of the park and wildlife, showcase the possibilities and benefits of ecotourism, and most importantly, to further establish friendship between the Mount Royal community and the Manu Park region.

As part of Canoes for Peru, young boys and girls from the nearby village of Atalaya will be taught canoeing technique and safety so they too can begin to earn above average wages as Amazon river-guides.

While it is common to see powerboats on the Alto Madre Rio, experiencing the river in traditional canoes, over a seven-day period, will be a distinctive opportunity. The use of canoes represents a return to a more traditional way of experiencing the river via self-propelled water travel, something that has become less prevalent since the advent of motor boats.

“It is this ability to expand and grow ecotourism impact in the region that drives the Canoes for Peru initiative,” Pavelka says. “We want to develop a program to introduce local children to canoe travel and work with small local schools to offer trips. Not only would this add to the diversity of our field schools — it would also provide local children with a new experience in their own backyards.”

If Canoes for Peru is to be successful, Pavelka and his students will need to raise funds to for not only canoes (average cost for a new canoe is about $2,000), but also for shipping.

It all began when Pavelka was visiting a café in Huacachina, a small village a few hours outside of Lima, in 2008. This is where he met Ryse Huamani, one of five siblings who run Bonanza Tours.

As the two men started up a conversation, the Canadian professor and the tour guide from Peru soon realized they had a lot in common — namely, a passion for sustainable tourism — they soon got to chatting about how they might be able to bring students to Manu National Park.

Ryse and his family operate Bonanza Tours on a plot of land that his father established in the 1970s. When Ryse’s father laid stake to the 12,500 hectares of jungle forest beside the Alto Madre Rio, his plan was to someday use it to harvest commercial crops. However, as Ryse and his brothers grew older they began to study ecology and economics. They soon came to the conclusion that this magnificent part of the jungle might be better served if it were to be preserved. Their father was hesitant when they first pitched the idea to found an ecotourism business on his land. However, when they showed him the profit margins that were possible, he agreed to their plans.

Today, the Huamani family make their living giving travellers once-in-a-lifetime experiences visiting the untouched Amazon. When Mount Royal students visit Peru with Pavelka, Bonanza Tours is an integral part of their experience.

The goal of the field schools to Peru is to allow students to learn, through immersive hands-on experience, about the growing ecotourism industry, culture and life in the country. While there, students complete research on various sustainable tourism and cultural topics.

Mike Overend, Bachelor of Applied Ecotourism and Outdoor Leadership (2013) was a participant in the 2011 Peru field school and is also involved in the Canoes for Peru initiative.

“I believe that Canoes for Peru is an excellent opportunity for students to get hands-on experience with an ecotourism initiative. I’m especially passionate about this initiative because I believe in the positive outcomes of ecotourism,” Overend says. 

Canoes for Peru is about working with friends who have a passion for helping to create a new experience in the region. It is also something that the locals can use to build, grow and develop an ecotourism business and prosperous community. A community that not only welcomes Pavelka, Overend and others involved in Canoes for Peru and the ETOL program, but all of those in the Mount Royal community.

To find out how you can help Canoes for Peru visit or contact Joe Pavelka at or 403.440.6512