I’ve started to think of my cerro, or hill, as home base. Recreo is a quaint residential neighborhood between the downtown centers of Viña del Mar and Valparaíso. Each weekday, I leave my house around 9:15am to meet my friends at the bottom of my cerro, at the Recreo metro stop. This metro stop just so happens to be on the coast of the Pacific Ocean and is conveniently two stops away from both downtown Viña and the university in Valpo. There is something soothing about my commute: as I walk down the same winding road, I have started to notice the numerous varieties of flowers local to the area. One house on my route has no one, but four golden retrievers whose barks I’ve come to expect as I turn the corner. While I wait for the metro with my friends, I can hear the crashing of waves, and if we are coming back at sunset, we go down the steps to the abandoned dock to watch the sky change color.
My block has the cutest panaderia, or corner bakery, which I’ve gotten in the habit of visiting on my way back from classes. I don’t know the names of many of the desserts, so I usually just ask the sweet old lady who works there to give me her favorite! Maybe if I try all of the desserts, I will learn the names…
Aside from the neighborhood, so much of what has made Recreo feel like home has been my host family’s warm welcome. They have done everything to make me feel like part of the family: my host mom’s almuerzos are always such delicious, homemade meals, and my host family threw me a surprise party for my birthday, despite only having known me for a couple weeks! I wasn’t really expecting to do anything to celebrate, and right as I was starting to get bummed out about it, my host mom called me downstairs. We had completos (left), and a guarana-flavored cake. Completos are the Chilean version of hot dogs, topped with avocado, salsa, and lots and lots of mayonnaise. Though I enjoyed my completo, I don’t know how often I will be having them—I’m not a huge mayonesa person. It was such a sweet gesture from my host parents, and I really am starting to feel comfortable in my Chilean home.
Furthermore, my host sister, Antonia, is the cutest three-and-a-half-year-old I have ever met. I practice using new verb tenses on her: if I get a confused look, I know that what I’ve said doesn’t make sense. She’s the only person in my family that I am sure will let me know if I say something incorrectly! Antonia has also, unknowingly, taught me many command verbs. When she wants to play with Snapchat filters on my phone, I hear “¡Dámelo! ¡Dámelo!”. When she wants more attention, it’s “¡mírame! ¡mírame!”. When my host father tries to serve her vegetables, he receives an emphatic “¡vete!”. When I go downstairs each morning, she is already speaking what seems like rapid-fire Spanish to my tired ears, reminding me that the idea of full immersion is not to be taken lightly.