Feeling Younger and More Energized in Ajijic, Mexico

Name: Diane Pearl

Age: 59

Nationality: U.S.

Living in: Ajijic, Mexico

In Diane Pearl’s view, taking a conventional retirement is the worst thing you can do for yourself; people start feeling old, she thinks, if they have nothing to do…and it’s all downhill from there.

No chance of that with Diane—or with the place she’s called home for the last eight years: Ajijic, Mexico, on the shores of Lake Chapala.

“I was amazed right away,” she says of Ajijic. “There is so much to do here, and the combination of people is incredible.”

In fact, she believes, people find so much to do here that they actually start feeling younger and more energized. “Being here….it’s like a Fountain of Youth.”

It’s certainly proven true for Diane. Her enthusiasm—for her shop (called D.P. Collections), her friends, and her life in Ajijic—is contagious. The afternoon I visit at her shop, she entertains a steady stream of friends and passersby who clearly make this a regular stop on their strolls.

Diane’s arts emporium sits on a busy corner in the heart of Ajijic, just a few blocks from the lake. The large shop has several rooms and levels, all filled with Mexican- and expat-made arts and crafts. Paintings, masks and murals cover the walls; shelves are filled with Mexican pottery, expat-crafted jewelry, and striking table lamps of painted parchment and other materials. A few expats browse through the rooms; the others have come just to see Diane. They chat cheerfully and munch the cookies she keeps in a jar behind the counter.

“Care for a cookie?” she asks, handing me one as she greets friends who have just walked in. Besides the cookies, she also keeps dog biscuits and candy, she tells me later. The little kindnesses matter here. As much as a shop, “this has become a community center,” she says.

Diane came to Ajijic eight years ago and at first, she operated her shop as a co-op with friends. She took over completely in about 2004; since then “it has definitely evolved due to community needs,” she says. Today about 20% of the merchandise she carries is expat-made; the rest is Mexican.

The shop’s evolution reflects Diane’s own experience as an expat. “I’ve always been in the arts,” she says. But in Ajijic she learned an important lesson: “Everything that I had learned before didn’t apply!”

She had to learn the language (she started Spanish lessons “right away”), as well as the routines and tastes of those in the area. Then there were the customs. “Someone had to tell me that I needed to put up blue paper for ‘Guadalupe,’” she says. (The Virgin of Guadalupe is patron saint of Mexico; her saint’s day in December 12.)

Fortunately, the Lake Chapala area is, Diane says, one of the easiest places to resettle and do business. “It’s a community destination,” she says.

Today, with a successful business, a circle of friends, and a role in the local community, Diane considers Ajijic her home. “I don’t have great expectations for living in the States anymore,” she says.

And besides, there’s all the fun and activity that daily life in her shop brings her. “It’s theater for me. I can play.”

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