A 5 Year Reunion with Dad in Costa Rica: The moments in life you never thought you wanted


In this blog, I am sharing the 4-year reunion (really 5 years, I’m just in denial) with my Dad in Costa Rica and why I love him so much. We got kicked out of restaurants and ditched the zipline adventure because Dad not wanting to wear a mask. We saw whales and screamed at each other a couple of times, and he has taught me a lot in life.

Here is the story…

You’d think after growing up with a dad who yells a lot, I wouldn’t be so sensitive. But I’m insanely sensitive and still flinch when someone raises their voice. My Dad is the epitome of a coach. You know those guys are majorly chill and laid back, walk with poise and demeanor, but catch on the wrong route, and your butt is getting cussed out real quick. That’s my Dad, Miami, Mo.


Almost 7 years ago, my life seemed to fall apart when I got divorced. Ironically, same month, same year, my parents also got a divorce after 39 years. Insane right? Needless to say, it was one of the most devastating seasons in my life, except I was so engulfed In the sorrow of what seemed like my own failure that it was nearly two years later that I looked up and realized my parents were never going to be together again. It was probably a fall day, and I was looking forward to Alabama football and Mom and Dad tag-teaming on the food, but yeah, that wasn’t my life anymore.

I guess my parents had had enough of the heartache. My Dad had been there for my mom through all of her fights with cancer, almost 15 years. My mom had put up with my Dad’s somewhat wild mania and sometimes depression. They fought together, but it was time, I guess. My Dad ended up down in Costa Rica and never left.

My Dad never let me stay the same. He always told me that Coach “Bear” Bryant, his football coach at Alabama, use to say,

“You are either getting better, or you are getting worse. You never stay the same.”

He was constantly pushing me to become better. Some parents nowadays accept their kids just the way they want to be, but that wasn’t good enough for Dad. He knew as a child we weren’t clear what exactly the best version of ourselves was, and neither was he, but it was better than what we could have potentially settled for.

For example, C’s were not ok on the report card. My Dad’s answer to that?

“C’s are average, and my children aren’t average.”

One time, in 2006, we were at the NFL Pro Bowl in Hawaii. A family member was the NFL MVP that year, and we were there to celebrate and go to the game. Being in Hawaii, I thought all I wanted to do was lay on the beach and soak up some sun, right? Well, my Dad had other plans for us, a better idea, per usual. He had rented a car and wanted to go on an adventure! The last thing I want to do while in Hawaii was in a car. But because this is a family trip, I got my butt in the car, and we drove through the mounters that would later be the backdrop for the filming of Jurassic Park 2. We ended up at the North Shore.

One of the most famous beaches in the world, with some of the most giant waves on the planet. We gazed in awe. On the way back, we stopped at a pineapple field with a restaurant on the side of the road. We ate fresh fish with pineapple fried rice, made by a local. It was as authentic as you could get. I had no idea what I was getting to experience then.

It was a moment.

A few years earlier, we were in Seattle, Washington, and that same family member was a star player for the Seahawks. We were there the week after Christmas, and I was singing the National Anthem for the Seahawks game. At that time in my life, I was in love and thought I would marry this guy from Seattle. Guess what my Dad did? Yep, you guessed it.

I was sick to my stomach because leaving Seattle was the last thing I wanted to do. But my Dad had an adventure in mind. He rented a car and wanted to drive somewhere.

We took off from Seattle and drove across the border into Canada. The first stop, Victoria.

British Columbia, Victoria, Canada is one of the most beautiful places in the world. I just remember the flowers and the boats in the marina, that’s how breathtaking. The next stop was Vancouver. It was like a clean New York City. Dad gave us each $100 to shop with, and we bought all of the hot trending items in 2002. It's a cringe just thinking about what we purchased.

Our final stop, Whistler Mountain. It was literally like Whoville out of The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. It was a ski town in the middle of these majestic mountains, fresh with white powdery snow. My Dad rented snowmobiles. Have you ever ridden a snowmobile? It’s like a jet ski on the snow. Well, have you ever ridden them at night? Our tour started at like 9 PM, and the amount of cold was something this Floridian had never experienced. There were no lights up there, but you could see everything perfectly clear because the moon reflected off the white snow.

We drove our snowmobiles through seven layers of the candy cane forest, through a sea of swirl-twirly gumdrops (reference from Elf the movie, if you missed it). When we got to the top, we came to this roundabout that had an overlook, and way off in the distance was the little Whoville town you only imagined from the movies. At that moment, I had no idea what I was really getting to experience. It was something I will never forget.

Two years later, the Winter Olympics was held right there on that same mountain. What a chance I got to experience something only some people get. My Dad always created experiences for us. Whether it was Christmas morning surprises or drives on trips. He was always making sure we had the best of the best. So, needless to say, after all our family heartache, misunderstandings, and traumatic events, I have wanted to repay him for all of that one day.



The first thing on the list when I got to Costa Rica was to take my Dad to an incredible dinner. It’s been 5 tumultuous years of being deprived of good food, apparently, so I had to fix the madness and close the gap on the absents of an ultimately delicious meal. I couldn’t imagine the torture, seeing as though my Dad is why I am the foodie I am today. Foodie as in ultimate food snob, unfortunately. Rumor from our driver had it, as we were driving through downtown

Jaco, there was an old Italian spot in town that is some of the best Italian food you’ll ever eat. That’s a dangerous claim to make for anyone who knows good Italiano food. My Dad looks Italian and prides himself as a professional connoisseur. We decided to give it a shot, and let me tell you about the rumor.

It was 100% accurate.

I quickly remembered what it was like being around my Dad when he snapped on me for taking too many photos of him eating. But I was just so excited I couldn’t stop!




The biggest surprise at dinner? Dad didn’t order spaghetti bolognese with a side of meatballs, which I knew he would do. He calls this seafood platter with every kind of seafood you could imagine and a side of pasta.

As we waited for the food, I noticed their wood fire oven, so naturally, I ordered a margarita pizza to hold us over. A couple of times, the waiter came to check on us and mentioned a surprise from the chef. Not sure what he was talking about, but we’d find out sooner or later.

If you followed me on Instagram that trip and happened to see the surprise come out for us, you’ll be familiar. Our waiter was walking toward the table with a ginormous wooden charcuterie-looking board of seafood. This platter looked like something out of a magazine, designed with 4 lobster tails, jumbo prawns, shrimp, ahi tuna, whole squid heads aka

There were sides plates, baby clams sitting on angel hair pasta, and the wine sauce. I’ve never even tried clams, but they were the best clams I’ve ever had. It was definitely dinner for six people, so we just started to chop away.

This food was so good that we actually returned the next night. This next night, the mask mandate was a little bit more strict because 40 police officers had been sent from the capital of Costa Rica, San Jose, to enforce or make sure that local companies were enforcing the mask rule. Needless to say, Dad doesn’t

like masks. He was very frustrated every time someone told him to put it on. In fact, he would be so frustrated he would do that coaching thing and scream at the top of his lungs at whoever was nearby.





We rode an ATV/side-by-side through the jungle and somehow ended up at this really cool restaurant owned by a family; half of their restaurant was the Abuela’s house.

The view from up here was breathtaking.



With every reason to eat and drink, we ordered daiquiris and empanadas. Their daiquiris were literally fruit, ice, alcohol, sugar.

They made the empanadas right in front of us as we toured the tiny dirt floor kitchen.



I don’t even eat empanadas, but these are the best things I’ve ever tasted in my life.



The kitchen was outside and had a wood fire grill, with two little Costa Rican women cooking.

Their bar and all the tables were made out of this teak wood from the trees in the jungle.





Dad and I sat on these ledges that they built, that sat at the edge of their property,

overlooking the mountains and the ocean. It was a moment.


On our way up the mountain, our tour guide Danny stopped us alongside the road. He got off his dirt bike, went up to some trees, pulled off a leaf, came over to the side-by-side, and shared with us the story of how makeup was created. Maybelline, Revlon, they all started from the teakwood leaves in Costa Rica. He took the leaf and started rubbing it on my hands, and bright corals and reds started to appear on my hand. He said they used it for lipstick and blush, and this is how makeup was created!


That night, we went back to that same Italian restaurant, and Dad ordered exactly what I thought he would order…

Spaghetti Bolognese, with a side of meatballs. He didn’t wanna wear his mask from the front of the restaurant to the table, but he knew it was worth every second to taste that meat sauce and pasta. So mask up Papa Mo, we gotta try this place again.

The following day we had to be up early because I had ordered a boat to go out and deep-sea fish. I’ve never done it before, and my Dad obviously loves to fish any chance you can get. But the main reason I got the boat for us was that it’s a whale-watching season.

If we were out there long enough, chances are we’d see a whale, and I’ve never seen one in the wild. We set sail at 7 AM, and by 9 AM, we came upon a mama whale and her baby frolicking through the water. Every four or five times

that the baby came up for air, the mama made her way up for a breath.

The sound of the blowhole when she breathed was majestic.

We trolled the waters for a few hours, but because of the red tide, we could not catch anything. It didn’t matter, though, because I was on the front of the boat blasting my favorite songs in the world, from Shania Twain to Coldplay,


Shawn Mendes, and Maverick city music. I was all over the place, dancing, pretend mic in hand, doing whatever I wanted, letting it all go right here in the middle of the ocean.

It was a moment.





After The boat ride, we headed to grab lunch at the Los Sueños Marina. The view from this incredible sushi restaurant we ate at was an entire marina full of the most insane boats you’ve ever laid eyes on. The Costa Rican mountains propped up behind this site.



You really can’t describe the beauty; it was like Pinterest in real life.



Dad reminisced about the boat he used to have and how we would take it from Jupiter, Florida, all the way to Miami, all of the fun memories we had on the boat. He imagined the kind of yacht he was going to have one day again.

I know this blog is getting long, and it was mostly about food and moments in my life, but I just wanted to leave you with one last thing.

My Dad has been cast out by many people in his life because sometimes the way he thinks is uncomfortable or irrational to most people. Sometimes he has very valid points, and other times what he saying doesn’t register well with others. Some call him manic; he calls himself a genius.

One thing my Dad taught me was never to compromise what you believe.

Even if it’s wild and crazy or goes against the crowd.



On this trip, I had bought tickets to go zip lining through the rainforest. This is something I’ve always wanted to do, and I was really looking forward to it.

We arrived at the zip lining tour, strapped up, helmet on, ready to go. There were probably 30 or 40 people in our group.


Right before we took off for the tour, they split everyone up into groups. Then they told everyone to put their mask on.

Whether you believe in masks or not, that’s beside the point. We were about to be outside in the rain forest, away from people. So logically, it didn’t make sense to a lot of people. So my Dad made sure everyone knew what he believed.






He said in front of all of the strangers,

“I’m not wearing a damn mask. Y’all are crazy, making us wear masks in the middle of nature. F*** this I’m leaving. “

To be honest, he probably said what some of the people were already thinking but was not brave enough to do anything about it. I was obviously embarrassed but then inspired that my Dad didn’t give a damn about what people thought about him.

The money was nonrefundable, but so is your faith, your belief, your dignity.

It was chaotic, but no beat skipped. We left and went and ate more food at another fantastic restaurant.

There have been moments in my life with my Dad, that have shown me that, even when God takes you on a detour, on a trip you never wanted to go on, the experience that comes from that will shape you to be the person you are dreaming to be right now. The moments you end up having will be moments you couldn’t imagine missing.

It’s about not being average; it’s back not staying the same but growing every day, even through the pain.

I think about my Dad a lot when I’m in the jails with the kids because most don’t have a dad. And even in his flaws, The Lord has used my Dad to help grow me.

I am supposed to go back to Costa Rica in November for my Dad‘s 70th birthday. I’ll let you know if that happens.

until then,

Pura Vida mi Amigos

Haley