About Bigger Than Your Block

Shay Olivarria is the most dynamic financial education speaker working today. She has written three books on personal finance, including Amazon Best Seller “Money Matters: The Get It Done in 1 Minute Workbook”. The second edition of 10 Things College Students Need to Know About Money will be released June 2016. She's been quoted on Bankrate.com, FoxBusiness.com, and The Credit Union Times, among others. To schedule Shay to speak at your event or to find out more about her work, visit her at www.BiggerThanYourBlock.com.

Why No Day on Vacation is Every Really ‘Wasted’

Yesterday was out last full day in Playa del Carmen, Mexico. I wanted to get up early and head down to Tulum. I keep seeing photos of the Tulum ruins’ “castle” set against the turquise waters and fluffy white clouds. I wanted to get that shot. I thought we’d head back to Akumal and have brunch at Turtle Bay and then perhaps say hi to the British family that works at the little library/welcome center on the walk back to the colectivo from the beach. I knew just what I wanted to do, but my family had other plans.

The kids were sleeping. My partner isn’t a morning person. I woke up around 6am and took a long, hot bath …  and then sat and did nothing. Eventually I knew the kids would get up and be hungry plus I wanted to get out so I looked up a really good breakfast place (Luca + Lara) and walked over to grab everyone breakfast.

I knew I could catch the colectivo by myself, as I’d done before but I knew I wanted to experience the waters with my babies …  and they didn’t care. Lol We ended up spending the day in bed watching Netflix and hanging out together in bed. In the late afternoon, my partner walked to grab us some snacks and light dinner from El Pechugon on Juarez and 10th.

As we were snatching tablets to make toddlers go to bed, I reflected on how I hadn’t “done anything” today. Vacations can be expensive and we’ve spent a ton of days (at the first AirBnB in Playa del Carmen, at the ‘department’ in Merida, and now at the townhouse near 5th Ave again in Playa del Carmen) doing nothing, lying in bed together, with everyone on their tablet or phone. It can be irritating until you think about the point of vacation. The point is to be together. The point is to enjoy the company of your loved ones. We did that.

There is a saying, “The days are long, but the years are short”. One day I’ll wish for the days all my babies wanted to do was lie in bed with us and eat popcorn and cold chicken.

Today we’re heading to Puerto Morelos for a beach day. We hope to have a god meal and enjoy the water before heading off to Cancun to enjoy our last few days on the Riviera Maya. The sun is shining, my daughter is thrilled that she’s wearing her mint green tutu-inspired bathing suit, and my son is telling us all to close the balcony door while playing Lego Batman. Every day with with them is a day we’ve “done something” because we’ve hung out together and snuggled and laughed and played and …  that’s what vacation is for.



Our Worst Adventures in a Taxi

I love to drive but driving in foreign countries where you don’t know where you’re going, don’t speak the language, and have little access to GPS doesn’t always make sense. I’ve driving in baja and South Africa. Everywhere else we take local transportation: tuk tuks, the train, the bus, Uber, and sometimes taxis.

I hate taking taxis because I feel like they are usually out to scam people, especially ignorant out-of-town folks that don’t know any better. We’ve traveled a lot and become pretty road hardy but it’s due to making lots of mistakes. Here, for your enjoyment I present our worst times in a taxi.

#1 Sao Paulo, Brazil

When our son was one year old, we all visited Brazil. We were excited to finally see Rio, Salvadore de Bahia, and Sao Paulo. We got around okay mostly walking and riding the bus but the ride to the airport was the true adventure.

We asked the Hilton to call us an early morning cab thinking it would be safer than trying to hail a cab on the street. When the cab arrived, we loaded our luggage and took off …  slowly. It was taking too long to get to the airport and the signs made it seem like we weren’t going to most obvious way. When I asked the driver about it, he shirked it off and kept driving in the same direction …  slowly. By the time we arrived at the airport, I was seething. I took a look at the meter, hopped out of the cab, grabbed my bags, and handed him the money as I mumbled under my breath.

He told me that we had to pay DOUBLE what the meter said! WTF?! I rarely yell at people, and I certainly don’t yell at people in foreign countries where I am a guest but …  whooo! I told him in no uncertain terms that we would not be paying double and that he could kiss my grits. Lol  He said that he was going to call the police. I told my partner to grab the baby, I grabbed our bags, and I dared him to call the police. My partner was so surprised (he doesn’t speak Portoguese or Spanish so I’m not even sure he really knew what was going on) that he just stood there for a beat. I was almost to the doors when I yelled for him to, “COME ON!”

We entered the hall and I was terrified that the police were hot on our heels. I tried to quickly get in line but as the only brown skinned people in sight, I knew we wouldn’t be hard to find. Surprislingly …  no one came for us …  or they didn’t find us. Lol I don’t think the taxi guy called because he KNEW that he was trying to scam us. I’m glad I stood up for us and I’m super glad that we made it onto our flight with no problems. Lol

#2 Playa del Carmen, Mexico

Few things are worse than hailing a taxi when you have no idea of how far you’re going to how much it might cost to get you there. When we arrived in Playa del Carmed off of the ADO bus at the 5th street station, that was our exact situation.

We had flown into Cancun around 6pm and by the time we cleared customs, found the ADO bus terminal, and boarded the bus it was starting to get dark. After a short hour drive, we walked out of the tiny bus terminal onto a busy 5th street facing a 7-Eleven and a McDonalds. We each had a toddler strapped to our chest and a backpack on our backs. We saw a taxi stand about 200 metres to our right so we headed that way. Once the taxi driver figured out there we wanted to go (thanks crappy AirBnB host with no address) he quoted us 180 pesos (almost $10). We kinda knew we were being robbed because …  it was a taxi stand next to a bus terminal but it was also late and we had our babies and we wanted to get settled. Of course, the taxi driver dropped us off at the wrong complex on the wrong street (it was only a 3 minute walk difference but still). We met the AirBnB host in the parking lot and he proceeded to tell us that it shouldn’t have cost more than 60 pesos (about $3).  *facepalm* It’s not about the amount of money, it’s about someone getting over on you. Ugh.


#3 Las Vegas, Nevada

This was on of our earliest blunders. We flew into McCarran airport and caught a cab to our hotel on the strip. Since we didn’t know where anything was, it took the cabbie driving in opposite directions for 6 minutes, and the meter increasing every few seconds, before I realized that something was wrong.

When I asked him about it, he played it off like he didn’t know what I was talking about so I told him to let us out …  right there …  on a backstreet ..  at night …  in Las Vegas. Lol Good thing I had just purchased my new DVF rollerbag ’cause there was a short hike to the hotel. Lol

#4 Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic

This is the oldest trick in the book. We caught a cab and told the guy our destination. We asked him how much it would be (you GOTTA know BEFORE you get in the cab) to take us. He quoted us a price and we were off. While driving the cabbie asked us if we were looking to buy souvenirs. When we said sure, he responded that he had a friend that had a shop. Of course he did. He drove us to the shop and we looked around a bit. We hopped back in and headed to our destination.

After pulling up to our destination, the price was more than we agreed on. When I asked him what gives, he said that we had to pay for driving us to the shop he suggested that his friend owned.  *blank stare*  After I let him know that he was unscrupulous and I wasn’t gonna pay nada …  I gave him the few extra dollars anyway. It wasn’t really about the money, it was about the respect. That extra few pesos really meant nothing to me as an American (I think the exchange rate was like $1 to 87 pesos or something crazy) but I wanted him to know that he hadn’t cowed me.

Things really haven’t been so bad, but I just want folks to know what’s out there. What’s the worst time you’ve ever had in a taxi? Let me know in the comments.

Be safe and happy traveling!

Alabaman BBQ in Merida, Mexico

On the ADO bus ride into Merida, I asked  our AirBnB host if there was any food within walking distance of the house. He told me about Momocoa.

Momocoa is a little place across the street from the Liverpool that has a bbq pit out front and emits smoke that fills the neighborhood with the smell of bbq. We took a look at the menu on their Facebook page and decided to give ’em a try.

I walked down there (it was literally a 5 minute walk) and knew exactly what I wanted to order: brisket (my favorite), picanha, and chicken. When I arrived, I was informed that they didn’t have brisket. Instead, I got picanha, chicken, Vietnamese (??) shrimp rolls, pulled beef, chips, and a hibiscus drink.

In the US, I’ve not heard people rave about Alabama bbq and now I know why. Lol  Nothing was inedible but nothing was delicious. The picanha was cold. The chicken was wobbly. The pulled beef wasn’t bad, I just don’t understand the purpose of this style of meat. The bbq was …  okay. The shrimp were good but the whole roll wasn’t. The chips were pretty good. The drink was HORRIBLE. I’d go there again but it would be my 9th or 10th choice.

Hours: Noon to 4pm

Take credit cards: Yes

Place to eat indoors: Yes

Take out available: Yes

Parking: Street parking

Sunday at Plaza Grande in Merida

Today is our last day in Merida, Mexico. Before heading back to Playa del Carmen we thought we’d check out Plaza Grande. I read that Sundays, the streets around the plaza are closed so allow families to bike and folks to walk around enjoying the food vendors, shops, and the street entertainment.

We took Uber down to the plaza from the north side (where our AirBnB is) and exited near the Oxxo/Circle K and Casa Maya. We wandered the street (there are several small resteraunts) and decided on Casa Maya for breakfast because they said they had “American breakfast” and comida de Yucatan.

We grabbed a table and a menu and started to discuss what we wanted. A guy came over and started explaining to me what each thing was and what it had in it. He was very patient. When the kids started getting fussy, he suggested that he bring a bowl of chips, guacamole, and pico de gallo until the food came.

We ordered french fries, salbutes (a kind of tortilla with chicken, onion, and tomatoe on top), jugo de pino con chaya, un horchata, and the American breakfast that consisted of pancakes, a pretty small fruit plate, orange juice, and coffee. Everything except the syrup was pretty good. Lol

After breakfast we wandered down to the plaza and took the requisite photos by the Merida sign and the lover’s chairs. I had heard that the Palacio de Gobierno had amazing murals and art that depicted the history of the Yucatan with an emphasis on the experience of the Mayan people so we headed over there. It was free to go in and the art is HUGE! Each piece has a little placard that explains some background of the piece. I learned a lot about the Mayan fight for survival after the Spanish arrived.

After the palacio, we crossed the street back to the plaza because we heard drums. You know Black folks can’t stay away from drums. Remember that Dave Chappel skit? Lol

There was a small cadre of kids banging on their drums. The leader had some sticks that reminded me of drumming I’ve seen in west African drumming circles. Hmmmm …

Anyhoo …  after all that excitement the boy was tired so I put him up in the toddler Tula and he drifted off to sleep. The girl was running around like a crazy person so ..  He put her in her toddler Tula and she drifted off as well. We caught an Uber back to our AirBnB and managed to get them both into bed without waking them up.

Today was a GOOD day.

ADO Bus Takes Credit Cards

We were staying in Akumal (equidistant to Playa del Carmen and Tulum) but after the horrible, terrible day in Tulum we opted to catch the ADO bus to Merida at the 12th street station in Playa del Carmen.

We needed to use a credit card and I wasn’t sure if the ADO bus station in Tulum took credit cards. We packed up oyr two toddlers, caught a colectivo in front of the resort and then walked (in the wrong direction, of course) to the ADO bus terminal on 12th street.

We arrived at 11:45am and snagged the last two tickets on the 12:30pm bus. We grabbed some snacks and got the bus. After riding for about an hour we pull up to our first stop and it’s …. frigging Tulum!

We just went in a circle.  *facepalm*

I get off the bus and ask the ADO representative behind the counter if they take credit cards. He pauses for a moment, looks at me and says yes. *facepalm*


I should have known. We”ve been able to use our US based credit cards in ADO bus terminals in Mexico City, Puebla, Xalapa, Cancun and Playa del Carmen. Welp, I know for next time.


Worst Day Ever in Tulum, Mexico

Cash was running low so we thought we’d grab some cash in Tulum before setting off to see the ruins and take a walk along the beach. Simple, right? Apparently not.

We took the colectivo from the Akumal resort we’re staying at (40 pesos per person) to the ADO bus station in centro Tulum. We saw a ScotiaBank and a HSBC. We stopped at the HSBC and used the ATM. The first time it said our card couldn’t be used. We tried again and it said our card couldn’t be used. Hmmm …

We walked down to the ScotiaBank to use the ATM. This time, the ATM said the card couldn’t be used but I got a notification from by bank asking me if fraud was being attempted. After texting back that it was indeed me, I was told to wait five minutes and try again. Okay. Five minutes passed and we tried again. This time, it said my card couldn’t be used but I got a notification this time saying that my ATM withdrawal had gone through. Wait, what? No money came out of the machine so we tried again. Again, I recieved a notification saying that the withdrawal had gone through.

I started to get worried that my account was being depleted but I didn’t have access to the money. I called my bank (an international call with international fees) and spent 23 minutes talking with a lady that told me that the withdrawals were bring charged to my account and then returned. She asked me to try again. One more time we went to the ATM and one more time no money came out but I got a notification saying that the withdrawal had come out of my account. She ended the call by telling me to try a different ATM.  *blank stare*

We walked down to the Super San Francis de Assisi grocery store where there was a BBVA. We tried to get money once again and …  no money came out. Ugh.

We spent so much time trying to get money that we didn’t go the ruins. By the time we walked the length of the strip, we were tired and ready to go home. We didn’t have enough cash to take a colectivo to the ruins AND take the colectivo into Playa del Carmen tomorrow …..  and walking was about three kilometres so we hopped on the first colectivo we saw to head back to the resort.

As we drove half a block down we saw a sign: Ruins Tulum 1 km.

are you serious?!

We settled in for the 20 minute colectivo ride with both kids acting an ass. By the time we reached the resort I was frusterated and ready to not be carrying my 31 pound toddler on my back …  but wait …  there’s more!

As we exited, Corey realized that his phone had dropped out of his pocket. His new, snazzy $1,000 phone was gone. I got back on the colectivo and looked on my hands and knees but saw nothing. Meanwhile the kids are on the side of the road (colectivos just drop you off on the side) and the passengers are so worried about them being hit by traffic that they are corraling them for us. What a mess!

I don’t find the phone and we head home. Corey’s upset. I’m tired. The kids are oblivious. He uses that find-my-phone thing to send out that annoying ring and we walk back to the condo. After about 5 minutes, my phone rings. They found the phone!

The English-speaking guy tells me that they found the phone and we can come get it in Playa del Carmen (about a 30 minute colectivo ride away) at the colectivo station but we only have an hour before our driver leaves and a new shift starts. We don’t have enough money for both of us to go so I give him my phone and send him into the dusk with no Spanish skills and the few pesos we have left.

I wait.

If something happens, I’d have no way of knowing.

I wait.

I wait.


There it is, the knob turns and there he is! He retrieved the phone, got on a colectivo, and he’s back with his phone in hand.

It was a helluva day considering nothing happened …  and everything happened.

Good night.

Swimming with Turtles at Akumal … or Not

We came down to Akumal because I was interested in snorkeling with the sea turtles. I have only been snorkeling once, while in Jamaica. A ver nice gentleman named Kevin that was working that day encouraged me to try it. When I told him I was afraid and snidely asked if he would hold me hand the whole time, he said he would …  and he did. It was super fun. He even got me to hold a sea urchin.

I didn’t have a Kevin this time but I was determined to have a good time. We packed up the toddlers and hopped on a colectivo down the coast. After a brief ride, we exited at the white metal bridge (it’s an overpass so you don’t have to walk across 4 lanes of traffic) and walked down the street as multiple blogs advised me.

We made it to a calm beach with plenty of people and hawkers. The water was cool but not cold. There were signs up saying that not only do you have to have a vest to snorkel you also have to be in the company of a tour guide. Crap! I wasn’t about to pay upwards of $80 for a 40 minute adventure.

We played on the shore and I made a mental note to return when the kids were a bit older so we could see some sea creatures. Hmph! The fish weren’t having any of that. Though we stayed in the shallow end near the shore, the fish came right up to us to swim around our feet. I think my orange nailpolish may have been attracting them because they kept trying to nibble my toes! Lol

After the kids splashed around and we chased the fish (and they chased us a bit) we dried off and stopped by the playground. We met a lady that had two kids (a toddler and a baby) that worked at the library’s afterschool program. She was from the UK, came down to start an adventure through South America and never left Mexico. Lol She told us about a wonderful resteraunt named Turtle Bay that we decided to try.

When you’re walking toward the beach, there will be a little sign on the left hand side. You can walk across the plaza and through the little walkway (it’s narrow like a parking space) to the pink building. The other option is to continue walking until you reach the “street” where all the people are selling things. If you look to the left, you’ll see a parking lot and a few resteraunts. Walk in that direction for maybe 100 metres and you’ll see another sign for Turtle Bay. They sell strange and delicious food and homemade ice cream.

We weren’t sure how good the food would be, so we ordered an appetizer of nachos in case the entrees were crap. Bad move.

Nachos – delicious

Chicken tacos with some kind of wierd sauce – delicious

Guacamole hamburger – delicious

Pineapple juice – delicious!

We scarfed down everything and then asked for ice cream! Lol The whole meal with nachos, tacos, side of rice, side of beans, guacamole hamburger, 3 pineapple juices, 1 jamaica, 2 milks, one scoop of ice cream in a cup, one scoop of ice cream in a waffle cone came toooooooo …   $36 (about 700 pesos)! Can you believe it?! We paid with our mastercard and left happy. Yum!

So far, visiting the sea turtles and fish and Akumal was the best day we’ve had on the Riverira Maya.