Monthly Archives: May 2016
Desert hiking may not be everybody’s ‘thing’, so to say. But I’d like to blame this partly on the image that the word ‘desert’ conjures, and the rest on Hollywood.
Think ‘desert’ and what comes to mind is the endless expanse of arid sand. This is usually followed by abundant instances of movie scenes where people are left to die in, yes of course, the desert. How else do you think Death Valley got its name?
In reality though, you’d be surprised to find that deserts are beautiful, mystical, and sublimely spiritual. Check out these hot destinations, if you don’t believe me.
10 Amazing Destinations for Desert Hiking
Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia
Deserts aren’t always full of sand, with Antarctica being a notable example. The Salar de Uyuni is another instance where the desert is made up entirely of salt. It is, in fact, the largest salt flat in the world, thanks to which it is almost devoid of vegetation and wildlife. A flat, salty expanse below your feet, and the deep blue sky overhead make for quite a memorable hike indeed.
As the world’s biggest salt plain, the Salar de Uyuni traverses Bolivia’s vast Altiplano, the remote and high desert of the Andean Plateau in southwest Bolivia. From here, it stretches toward a bizarre landscape comprising mineral pools, llamas, and all things actively volcanic, from geysers to boiling mud pools. Keep in mind that the temperatures here can be insanely bizzare―being in the range of 70 during the day, and dipping to a low of -4 at night.
Namib-Naukluft National Park, Namibia
As a part of what is considered to be the world’s oldest desert, the Namib-Naukluft National Park definitely deserves a visit. Besides that interesting tidbit, this desert also holds the distinction of being home to the tallest sand dunes in the world.
The Olive trail, considered to be apt for beginners, measures about 10 km, and starts from the car park close to the Naukluft Campsite with a steep climb to the top of a plateau, giving great views of the main Naukluft Gorge. Experienced trekkers coming here may want to try the more rigorous 120-km eight-day Naukluft Hiking Trail.
Atacama Desert, Chile
Following the oldest and the saltiest, it’s now time to visit the world’s driest desert, the Atacama in Chile. What draws people here, besides the obvious hiking-related activities, is its reputation of a stellar stargazing venue, with unmatched views of the Milky Way.
Besides, there are other attractions in the region, waiting to be explored. These include the Puritama Hot Springs, Miscanti and Miñiques Lagoons, and some Pre-Columbian Ruins and Geoglyphs. Plus, you will also get the opportunity to visit Local Indigenous Villages and the Atacama Salt Flat as well.
Cabo San Lucas, Baja California Sur, Mexico
If you think we’ve put up the wrong picture for a desert, you couldn’t be more wrong. A hike in the desert of the Los Cabos area will lead you to the beach, which is a novel sight for any desert hiker. Enjoy the rock formations, wildlife, and the vegetation as you trail along the Pacific coastline. The stark contrast in the views can awe every avid desert hiker.
The weather here is perfect all year round, so anytime is a good time to be here in Cabo San Lucas. The hike to Mt. Solmar is an easy trek, and can be accomplished by amateurs as well. The view from the top is awe-inspiring, and provides a panorama of the blue Pacific.
Joshua Tree National Park, California
The star attraction which brings hikers here is the excitement of rock climbing. There’s also a rock climbing school here for beginners. Watch out for the park’s unique landscape, dotted with blunt boulders, which make quite a stunning sight, especially during twilight hours.
The park has several day hikes, which can be enjoyed by those with each level of expertise. The Lost Palms Oasis round trip is around 7 miles, and is meant for everyone. Expert hikers may want to try the Mastodon Peak (3,371 feet) or the Ryan Mountain (5,461 feet), which offer more challenges.
Sedona isn’t just for the mystics and the new age healers. Whether you may or may not believe in its energy vortexes, do come here to hike along some fabulous trails that snake along the red rock hills.
You may want to experience the thrill of hiking up the Devil’s Bridge, which is a short but steep hike, and promises amazing views of the entire region. Another moderate level trail is the Cathedral Rock Trail―a 2.9 mile loop trail located near Sedona. The West Fork Oak Creek Trail is a 6 mile trail, suitable for all levels, and is open all year round.
Zion National Park, Utah
Zion National Park includes a section each of the Mojave Desert, the Great Basin, and the Colorado Plateau. Now, with such an awesome confluence, would there ever be a dearth of places for hiking enthusiasts?
There are a number of great hikes in Zion; each being very unique. You can take an arduous trail up the side of the canyon to Angels Landing (not meant for the acrophobic), or you can hike to a number of waterfalls. In the hot summer months, you are recommended to hike along the Narrows, which will lead you directly through a river as far as you like to go upstream. The West Rim Trail has some of the most spectacular views that anyone could hope to see―you’ll find beautiful canyons, springs, seeps, trees, and flowers.
Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
The Grand Canyon consistently ranks among the must-see places in the world. This natural wonder has the most gorgeous views, as you trek along its treacherous trails.
Considering the topography of the Grand Canyon, it is safe to assume that these trails are not meant for amateurs. Even then, if you are looking for something basic, choose the The Rim Trail. which extends from the village area to Hermits Rest. Begin from any viewpoint in the Village or along Hermit Road. The Rim Trail offers excellent walking for quiet views of the inner canyon and is considered to be an easy hike.
Arches National Park, Utah
Located just outside Moab, the Arches National Park is breathtakingly beautiful. These salmon-colored sandstone arches are a sight to behold. Climbing these arches is banned; however, hiking along the permissible areas makes for a memorable experience.
Though you are not permitted to climb the arches, you can enjoy some easy hiking trails throughout the park, including the Balanced Rock trail, Broken Arch, Double Arch, and Landscape Arch. Experienced hikers who are seeking challenges can head to the Fiery Furnace, an area of the park that has no established hiking trails, signs, or maps. Exploring this area requires careful navigation, tremendous physical agility, and a formal hiking permit.
Death Valley National Park, California and Nevada
You might find the desert landscape fascinating, but keep in mind that a hike in Death Valley is not meant for the weak at heart. It is searing hot here, with trails that are deceptive, as well as undeveloped. Do tons of research before you get here.
There are hardly any developed hiking trails in this park, nevertheless, you may want to the Golden Canyon Interpretive Trail, or the Natural Bridge Canyon, both of which are simple hikes. Those looking to put in some hard work may head to the Death Valley Buttes or the Little Bridge Canyon.
Waves of the azure sea kissing your feet, warm silky sand trickling through your fingers and toes, cool breeze blowing across your body as you languidly soak up the warm, yellow sun – a holiday by the beach is definitely, an ultimate therapeutic vacation to improve one’s mental and physical health. Now the thing about beaches, as with any vacation spot, is that each of us has his/her own preferences and opinions which are bound to differ from person to person.
Hence, given below are, what I consider to be, the top 10 beaches in the world.
1. Lopes Mendes Beach, Ilha Grande
Best Time to Visit:
December – March
If it is paradise you are looking for, then head to Lopes Mendes in Brazil. It has all the elements you need for your dream beach holiday. From breathtaking scenery, golden sands to shallow azure-blue waters accompanied by all sorts of modern amenities.
2. Horseshoe Bay Beach, Southampton Parish
Best Time to Visit:
Featuring opalescent, aquamarine seas, powdery pink soft sands, crystal clear turquoise colored waters, and amazing limestone rock formations, Horseshoe Bay beach stands apart from the rest of the beaches. Another of its highlights is the underwater trails which makes it highly popular amongst snorkeling aficionados.
3. Rhossili Bay, Swansea
Wales, United Kingdom
Best Time to Visit:
May – September
Rhossili Bay beach is known for its picture perfect landscape and a great place to bring your whole family. Here, you will get to enjoy the best of both worlds – the old mumbles lighthouse offers a panoramic view of the surrounding coastal country and all those who love paragliding or surfboarding, this is the place to be.
4. Eagle Beach, Aruba
The Caribbean Sea
Best Time to Visit:
Eagle beach is known for its clean air, soft white sand, perfect climate and numerous fine restaurants. It is a personal favorite of the rich and famous, because of its alluring combination of pure white sand, magnificent turquoise blue waters, beach barbecues and midnight cocktail parties.
5. Rabbit Beach, Lampedusa
Best Time to Visit:
May – September
Rabbit beach is especially famous for its narrow cove in the side of a cliff, and aquatic wildlife from the sea, ranging from turtles and mantas to dolphins. The residents of Lampedusa island are very keen on maintaining its natural beauty, and protecting the endangered loggerhead sea turtles that nest and lay eggs on the southern coast of this pristine island.
6. Playa de las Catedrales, Ribadeo
Best Time to Visit:
July – August
Playa de las Catedrales is one of those beaches that is brimming with the exquisite beauty, which nature has bestowed upon it abundantly. Here, you will get to enjoy lazy and long beach stretches with the sea whispering on the shores, a picture-perfect location and one of the most romantic places to propose or get married.
7. Flamenco Beach, Culebra
Best Time to Visit:
Swaying coconut palms, sunny weather all year-round, cool breeze, and cerulean waters where you can snorkel and swim to your heart’s content. This is why Flamenco beach is considered ideal to relax and explore some exotic flora and fauna.
8. Baia do Sancho, Fernando de Noronha
Best Time to Visit:
If you like exploring, fishing, hiking, watching the sunrise or the sunset and want to experience the freshness and joy of living close to nature, surrounded by beautiful waterfowl and sea turtles, then this is the place to be.
9. Whitehaven Beach
Best Time to Visit:
Whitehaven beach is known for its white sand and is said to be one of the most pristine and iconic beaches in Australia. It is an excellent vacation spot for young and old alike. It also offers a beautiful view of the surrounding Great Barrier Reef and is a fabulous opportunity to snorkel or scuba dive to meet 1500+ species of fish, 400+ hard corals and 130+ species of sharks and rays.
10. Grace Bay, Providenciales
Turks and Caicos Islands
Best Time to Visit:
Apart from being a quiet, sunny and peaceful beach, this lovely island is also renowned as a retirement home. It has remained an unspoiled island, untouched by the modern hustle-bustle and is well-known for its spectacular coral reefs, humpback whales, turquoise blue waters, and diverse waterfowl.
Our memories of the ocean will linger on, long after our footprints in the sand are gone.
Although this quote is from an anonymous philosopher, one would be hard-pressed to find someone who cannot relate to it. The blue, playful water, the eternal sounds of the seashore – the guttural baritone of the waves complemented by the high tremolo of the whistling wind – and the soft sand combine to create a much-desired “getting away from it all” sensation that calms and pleases us at once. The abstract stuff aside, the tangible side of our primordial admiration of oceans and beaches lies in the number of tourists who flock to beaches all over the world as soon as they get the chance. Beaches are always a popular travel destination, waiting to greet and soothe us with open arms. They are excellent spots to get rid of that pent-up weekday boredom.
The east coast of the United States is replete with stunning beaches that can make for a perfect weekend getaway or a fantastic family vacation. North Carolina houses many of those. North Carolina’s beaches can be, broadly, geographically divided into 3 regions:
- The Outer Banks (OBX) includes many popular beaches, such as Avon, Hatteras, Rodanthe, Corolla, Ocracoke, etc. Part of the Outer Banks is preserved by the Cape Hatteras National Seashore.
- The Crystal Coast includes beaches on the Bogue Banks, Harkers Island, Shackleford Banks, etc. ‘Crystal Coast’ is a moniker coined to promote tourism.
- Cape Fear includes beaches such as Wilmington, Carolina, Kure and Wrightsville.
Here’s what I think are the best beaches of North Carolina.
Home to the notorious pirate ‘Blackbeard’ Edward Teach, Ocracoke Island, originally called Wokokkon, was only permanently settled after Blackbeard’s death in 1718. This Outer Banks island was named as the best beach in America by Stephen Leatherman, better known as ‘Dr. Beach’, in 2007 and consistently features in the lists of the best beaches in the world.
Other than the excellent beach, Ocracoke also houses the second oldest lighthouse in the US, although it is no longer open to climb. Another popular attraction is the vibrant music scene of Ocracoke, with a large number of local musicians.
A relatively unknown beach community, Topsail is an undiscovered gem in the Cape Fear region. Due to the relatively low tourist influx (although the numbers are gradually increasing), Topsail has remained a quaint town, famous for its spectacular beaches and seafood. The residents of Topsail Beach are eager to maintain Topsail’s natural beauty, particularly demonstrated by the Topsail Turtle Project, which is entirely run by volunteers.
Like many other islands in the vicinity, Topsail Beach is supposed to have a pirate history. The name itself was supposedly given to the island by virtue of the ‘topsails’ of pirate ships, which was the only portion of the ships that could be seen, hiding in wait for merchant vessels to pass by.
Situated on the barrier island of Topsail Island, Surf City is a typical beach town – quiet, sunny and peaceful.
Like all small beach communities, summer is the period of maximum tourist activity, while the local population utilizes winter as a well-earned break from the hectic daily schedule of the tourist season (this applies to the following beaches as well, unless otherwise mentioned). Surfing and fishing are the most popular activities in this beach town.
If you are enthusiastic about fishing, Hatteras is the place for you. Agencies in Hatteras can set up customized fishing trips for you, whatever your requirements may be. And even if words such as bobbler, bait, night crawler, and shank don’t mean anything to you, Hatteras is also quite close to the concurrence of the colder Labrador current and the warm Gulf current, which results in a great surf and a wonderful beach.
Bald Head Island
Apart from its beach, this lovely town is renowned as a retirement home. The old-world charm of the picturesque town is preserved to the extent that cars are not allowed on the island; residents commute in stylized electric golf carts or bicycles. The main attraction on Bald Head Island is the ‘old baldy’ lighthouse, which offers a beautiful view of the surrounding coastal country.
Another town famous for its not-so-honorable past, Nags Head (most probably) derives its name from the mules, or nags used to bring about shipwrecks, which were then looted by locals. A lantern attached to the nag, which would then be left free to roam on beaches on dark nights, would confuse incoming ships about the whereabouts of the coast and cause miscalculations, leading to shipwrecks.
Staying in the present tense, though, Nags Head is a famous – and peaceful, if I may add – beach resort, although not ‘tranquil’ in the same sense as Bald Head. But despite the relative modernization, Nags Head retains an excellent beach, not to mention the Jockey’s Ridge State Park and popular fishing piers.
Holden Beach is, to paraphrase Chandler Bing, more of a place to have a summer ‘vacation’ than to have a summer ‘break – woohoo’. Holden Beach retains a pristine quality in its beautiful environs. Despite an inevitable degree of modernization, Holden Beach holds a high rank for its family appeal, a claim supported by National Geographic’s Traveler.
Fishing is, of course, a favorite pastime among visitors, along with bicycling, boating and windsurfing. The annual Festival by the Sea, held in October, attracts many visitors as well. Another of Holden Beach’s treasures is the Loggerhead sea turtles, which nest at this pristine waterfront. The hatchlings usually emerge between July-October.
Due to it being located close to the University of North Carolina, this beautiful beach stays active past the summer seasons, with the tourist influx carrying on up to November.
Along with the typical oceanfront pastimes of surfing et al., Wrightsville is also a popular bird watching destination; many shorebirds nest along the coast of North Carolina. Sea turtles also thrive on the southern barrier island of Masonboro Island. Johnnie Mercer’s Pier in Wrightsville is one of the few remaining wooden piers and is an excellent spot to tug the line.
Emerald Isle can be termed as unique in this list. It doesn’t have a historical significance like Ocracoke, nor surfing hotspots like Surf City, nor tourist destinations like the Old Baldy lighthouse or the Jockey’s Ridge. Emerald Isle’s reputation as a beach resort is based almost exclusively on what matters most – its beaches. It is an excellent vacation spot for fishing, and the aquatic wildlife is fascinating as well. It is especially famous for sea turtles.
Originally owned by Henry Fort and inherited by his daughter Anita Maulick upon his death, Emerald Isle was purchased and developed by seven partners in the 1950s and 60s. The name ‘Emerald Isle’ was given while the area was under development. There are several possible explanations for the somewhat ambiguous title; the most plausible one is that the developers, while being flown over the area, named it so due to the extensive forest cover over the newly purchased land.
The ‘Seafood Capital of the World’ Calabash and its adjoining beach community Sunset Beach, only lying about 5 miles apart, are the southernmost major coastal towns of North Carolina. While Calabash holds a high rank in the world cuisine map thanks to its ‘Calabash-style’ seafood, Sunset Beach is famous not only for its beach, but also for the numerous golf courses which lie on its periphery.
The pontoon bridge in Sunset Beach is also a popular tourist attraction. Although it is no longer the only route in and out of the tranquil town, the bridge has been preserved by the Old Bridge Preservation Society and is being developed as the core of a museum about the town’s history. Like most coastal towns, Sunset Beach also has a fishing pier for the avid fisherman.
Due to the alluring combination of the relaxing atmosphere, beautiful beaches and the stunning seafood, Calabash and Sunset Beach are a personal favorite.
I do, of course, confess that the beaches included on this list are a personal choice, but I really don’t see anyone not going nuts about them. Apart from these, the North Carolinian coastline also offers these excellent choices.
Pine Knoll Shores: Center of the Bogue Banks
Atlantic Beach: It is the oldest beach community in the Bogue Banks. You get to witness great sunrises and sunsets. Fishing is a major activity here. You will find restaurants, nightclubs, bars, family attractions and many more.
Carolina Beach: Warm, fertile waters support large numbers of aquatic wildlife. It is home to the North Carolina Aquarium. Other enjoyable activities that you can be a part of are surfing, kayaking, boating, etc.
Rodanthe: Popular water sports destination
Kill Devil Hills: Site of the first flight by the Wright brothers
Duck: Named, obviously, for the large numbers of the waterfowl in the surroundings
Ocean Isle Beach: Golfing (on the nearby mainland) and turtle watching can be enjoyed (from May-October).
Kure Beach: Home to one of the state-owned aquariums; along with fishing you can participate in nature programs.
Bodie Island: Houses the Bodie Island Light, one of the most famous lighthouses of the Outer Banks
North Carolina’s beaches are generally considered to be safe during the prime tourist season, summer and early fall. Naturally for coastal towns, seafood is a major cuisine and industry in most towns, although Calabash holds the reign over that department. Carolinian beach communities, especially those on the Outer Banks are dormant towns, going into a state of near-hibernation between tourist seasons, and thus provide the perfect pristine touch to the naturally beautiful wonders, that is its beaches.
Mexico is blessed with a coastline of 10,000 km along the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. As a result, it houses countless beach destinations that offer a variety of activities for tourists.
Mexico has gained a bit of a reputation as a vacation for the affluent, due to the rise of glitzy resorts such as Cancún and Acapulco. However, though that may well have been the case in the past, it is now accessible to tourists on every budget.
Here are Mexico’s best coastal resorts, the best of the gems that this wonderful country has to offer.
Mexico’s capital, Mexico City, is the ideal gateway into Mexico for most international travelers. Cities such as Mexico City, Cancún, Puerto Vallarta, Acapulco, and Playa del Carmen have hundreds of Couchsurfing and Airbnb hosts for budget travelers. For those on a more ‘vacation budget’, there is a wealth of countless seaside resorts in each of these coastal destinations.
Mexico’s Best Beach Destinations
Getting There: Various American cities, including major hubs such as New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles, are connected to Cancún by air. It is a major city in Mexico, and is connected to all other major Mexican cities.
➙ Starting off with the most Westernized, and consequently popular, of all of Mexico’s beach destinations, Cancún is one of the best beach vacation spots in the world. It has huge sandy beaches and crystal-clear waters, which have kept it high in the tourism lists for so many years. Being a tourism-centered city, it offers a variety of restaurants, resorts, and shopping centers for the typical tourist, and some of the best nightlife in Mexico.
➙ Apart from the seaside entertainment, it has two notable museums: the Museo Subacuático de Arte, an eccentric underwater museum consisting of 403 life-size sculptures, and the Museo Maya de Cancún, which houses one of the best collections of Maya artifacts in Mexico.
➙ A day trip to Chichen Itza, the famous Mayan complex, is also a highly recommended and usually selected option.
Getting There: This island is situated very close to Cancún, and can be accessed via regular ferries.
➙ Isla Mujeres, situated about 9 miles off the coast of Cancún, is a complete contrast to the most touristy city in Mexico. It is ideal for relaxation, and is the perfect place for someone who gets bored and frustrated in the commercialized environs of Cancún. There are a few rocky caves to explore, but the USP of Isla Mujeres is its contrast with Cancún: relaxing environs, relatively uncrowded beaches, and fresh, home-cooked seafood in the thatched palapa restaurants by the beach.
➙ The inexpensive and homely inns found here are complemented by a few boutique resorts, and together provide accommodation in every price range.
➙ Biking or driving a golf cart around this tranquil island is the best way to roam it (or just walk, if you want!).
Getting There: It is quite close to Cancún, and all the destinations on the Mayan Riviera can easily be reached from there by bus.
➙ The Riviera Maya, or the Mayan Riviera, is a tourism-centric region along the Caribbean coastline of Quintana Roo, a Mexican state. It consists of several Caribbean beaches, such as Playa del Carmen and the island of Cozumel, as well as the Mayan ruins of Tulum.
➙ Playa del Carmen, in particular, is being developed massively in order to be more attractive to tourists and to serve as a center of the region.
➙ The primary attractions in this region are snorkeling and scuba diving in the Belize Barrier Reef, which is the second longest barrier reef system in the world, and the archeological finds of Tulum and the more inland Coba. Swimming with dolphins is also a major draw in this region.
Getting There: Los Cabos is connected by air to Mexico City, Los Angeles, San Diego, and Ontario, among other cities.
➙ Of all the seaside destinations in Mexico, Los Cabos offers the best of both worlds. It is made up of two cities: San Jose del Cabo, which has retained the persona of a traditional, quaint Mexican town, and Cabo San Lucas, which is the black sheep of the two and has become renowned for its nightlife.
➙ Located in Baja California, it is highly convenient for US tourists, and has consequently molded itself to attract more Americans. The region between the two cities, particularly, has become famous for its championship golf courses, an activity pursued in the US with almost religious fervor.
➙ El Arco, or The Arch, is a famous and distinctive landmark in Los Cabos, and is a frequent gathering point for sea lions. Whale watching is also a worthwhile activity in the winter; whales migrate here for the warmer waters. Due to the variety of activities available in this twin resort, Los Cabos is arguably the best of Mexico’s top seaside vacation spots.
Getting There: It is connected by air to Mexico City, Guadalajara, Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, Chicago, etc.
➙ Like Los Cabos, Mazatlán presents two destinations in one: the touristy seaside resorts and shopping areas, and the preserved old city, which provides a fascinating glimpse into life in Mexico.
➙ The pueblo viejo (old town) has been renovated in several places, and the renaissance that turned Mazatlán from a Cancún-esque resort to one of the most lovable seaside destinations in North America is still underway. A guided tour of 3-4 hours for short groups, which can be arranged at most hotels for approx. USD 30, is a great way of getting to know the new and the old of this city.
➙ Whale watching (winter) and dolphin watching (year-round) tours, conducted by marine ecologist Oscar Guzon, are also famous.
➙ Mazatlán also contains a few options for the heritage tourist, such as the Museo de Arte and the Teatro Angela Peralta.
Getting There: It is connected by air to Mexico City, Guadalajara, Los Angeles, Atalanta, Dallas, Chicago, etc., and by a daily bus to Mexico City.
➙ The original Mexican party center before the rise of Cancún, Acapulco still holds the air of a typical touristy seaside resort rather than an enriching heritage destination.
➙ Being a cosmopolitan destination, it excels in providing all kinds of entertainment, ranging from pristine beaches to thrilling cliff divers. The latter, taking place at La Quebrada, is arguably Acapulco’s most famous tourist attraction; the prime time to catch the show is after 7-8 pm, when the divers hold torches while performing their routine.
➙ Its old town square is a veritable treasure trove of entertainment after evening, when various street performers add to the setting provided by the numerous sidewalk cafés.
Getting There: It is connected by air to Mexico City, Guadalajara, Los Angeles, San Diego, and Toronto, among others, and by bus to Guadalajara.
➙ Once named as the Friendliest City in the World, Puerto Vallarta still retains that friendly, welcoming air.
➙ It has several unique features among Mexican seaside attractions, such as being the preferred coastal retreat for the domestic Mexican tourist. It is also emerging as a popular retirement spot for Americans and Canadians. It is also known as one of the most gay-friendly destinations in the whole of Latin America.
➙ Apart from its beaches, boardwalks, and entertainment-filled sidewalks, Puerto Vallarta is home to the beautiful Vallarta Botanical Gardens, and the small but interesting pottery museum, Museo de Cuale.
These are some of the best beach destinations Mexico has to offer. Pack your bags, and start imagining yourself on the sun-kissed sands, amid fascinating relics of Mayan history, or stuffing yourself with delicious Mexican food!