Leap of faith: an accidental tourist starts a Mexico business

articles Living, Working, Retiring

Karen Blue

It’s been a long time since I wrote a story about a midlife maverick. I met another one recently and had lunch with her in order to hear her story. I enjoyed it and I hope you will, too

Connie Kimmitt came to Ajijic from southern Alberta, Canada in November 2000. Having recently turned 50, she came with her family who had planned to accompany her aunt and uncle while they checked out Ajijic as a retirement community. Unfortunately, just before the family trip, her uncle fell and broke his ankle. Connie, her mother, sister and brother came anyway. Connie had recently quit her job and, for her, the timing was right.

When she arrived, although she had zero interest in the trip, she immediately fell in love. Now, it’s Connie who has moved to Ajijic, rather than her aunt and uncle. “We visited Tlaquepaque,” she said. “As we were walking down the esplanade, I had this strange feeling as though roots were growing out of my feet deep into the ground. I felt a literal connection with this country. ‘Oh my God,’ I said to myself. ‘I’m home.'” She swirled her lemonade with her straw, watching the ice cubes swim around in circles. Then she looked up at me. “I had been asking for guidance to find my spiritual home. This, I knew, was the answer.

“I couldn’t explain it to anyone, but I went back to Alberta, sold everything, brought a van and trailer and moved myself here.”

Connie is tall, slender and attractive, with chestnut hair and a warm smile. She seems shy at first, but as we talked a quiet strength took form.

“What kind of work did you do in Canada?” I asked.

“I was both an interior decorator and an esthetician, specializing in European esthetics. I also purchased fixer-uppers, renovated and sold them. At one point I owned and managed an 18-unit motel.”

I knew Connie had recently opened up the new El Sueño Suites in San Antonio Tlayacapán, translated as “The Dream Suites,” and I asked her to talk about that experience.

She took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “I was following my heart and when I do that, synchronistic things happen. At the time I was staying at PAL RV Park in my trailer. I mentioned my dream to one of the neighbors. He was stunned that I wanted to do that by myself, but he told me about this property that was for sale.”

“When the realtor took it to me, I walked through the gate and knew this was the right place. We had to make major renovations to convert the one house, one RV pad and one stable property to the existing four suites, a new RV pad and my own casita. I’ll show it to you after we eat.”

The waiter appeared with our shrimp and avocado salad. After we thanked him, she continued. “I was scared, but in an exciting kind of way. One of my life rules is to ‘feel the fear and do it anyway.'”

“Had you done research in the area to find out if there was a need for suites?”

“No, no research. I was simply following my heart. It was what I wanted to do. It didn’t matter to me who else was or was not offering suites. I didn’t want to do the breakfast part of B&B, so these suites are for me, B&MYOB.” She gave me a minute to figure it out, and as I shrugged my shoulders, she translated for me. “Bed and Make Your Own Breakfast.”

“My realtor gave me the name of a contractor. Rudy knew immediately what I wanted to do with the property…he shared my vision. I knew he was the right person, and he spoke English so that made it much easier.”

“How long did it take?”

“We started March 1st and by October 1st it was done.”

I hesitated, wondering if I should ask the next question, but decided she could always say, “I don’t want to answer that one.” I did, however, decide to phrase it carefully.

“Is this something you always wanted to do in retirement or is it something you need to do in order to make a living?”

Connie looked directly into my eyes. “I put all my money into it. I risked everything. I made it the kind of place I’d like to stay in if I was traveling and trusted that it would all work out the way it was supposed to.”

Yikes, I thought. People have called me a risk taker all my life, but I’d never put all my eggs into one basket. I’d never risked everything on one venture. I was awed. This was one gutsy gringa.

“Well,” I said. “If it’s any consolation, I think you’ve hit on a need in the community. There are many B&B’s, but I know of only two places that have a kitchen, bathroom, living room and bedroom. One is really in a state of disrepair and the other isn’t something to write home about. I like to have a kitchen when I’m traveling. I don’t like to eat out all the time.”

We finished up our delicious salads, paid the bill and I followed Connie to El Sueño. Just a block south of the carretera and one block west of the Superlake strip mall, we walked into a little oasis in the middle of a typical Mexican village. The grounds were immaculate, the gravel driveway and the RV pad, ringed with palm trees and the well-manicured grass landscaped with a myriad of flowers. “Wow,” I said.

We began the tour in her casita, which had previously been a stable. Traditional tile work in the kitchen and on the floor complemented her nicely decorated home. “A stable, huh? Do you have ‘before’ pictures?” She did.

What a transformation. The suites each had distinctive personalities and plenty of outdoor space for private barbeques or get-togethers with other guests. As though she had read my mind, Connie said. “I’ve got a family reunion coming next month, who’ve booked all four suites. It’ll be a great place for them to assemble and enjoy each other.”

“I love the energy, here, Connie. It’s just a place that feels good – peaceful and caring.”

As the piece de resistance, she showed me her Esthetics Salon, located next door to the casita. I walked in and sucked in my breath. “I’ve never seen such an elegant…do you call it a massage table?” It was high-style design, made of contoured white leather.

Connie smiled. “I had it imported from Italy.” I continue my esthetics work here and integrate it with aromatherapy.

“When I get back from the States, I want one.”

“Okay,” she warned, “just don’t plan anything afterwards. It’s a 2-1/2 hour procedure and you’ll be zonked.”

As we returned to the patio, I said, “You’ve received working papers, then?”

“Oh yes, both for the Suites and the Esthetics.”

 This was a perfect Lakeside day. The sun shone. A light breeze fluttered in the air. The birds sang and the scent from the bright red begonias wafted gently along the breeze. As we walked back towards my car, I asked, “Any regrets? Any lessons?”

“No, I feel blessed. I’m learning what it’s like to be on the minority side of the equation and that’s teaching me to think more carefully about what I do and say so I don’t hurt anyone’s feelings. I’m learning tolerance and understanding. I’m a guest in the Mexicans’ home and it is I who needs to adapt.

“This is my spiritual home and it’s definitely a part of my spiritual journey.”

“Last two questions. How much do you charge for the suites and how can people reach you?”

“The suites rent for 495 pesos per night. I give singles a discount and rent them for 450 pesos nightly. I’ll negotiate discounts for stays longer than two weeks. My phone is 376-766-1648. My email is connie@laguna.com.mx and my website (designed by my son) is at www.elsueno.ca.

Published or Updated on: June 1, 2002 by Karen Blue © 2002
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