I'm happy to report that our time in Big Sur ended on a high note.
We enjoyed a second picnic lunch at the cottage, and then watched the sun set as we headed toward Carmel on our way to dinner at the Big Sur Bakery on Highway 1. We'd attempted to eat there the previous night, but none of the seven tables in their small dining room had been available, so we'd made a reservation for the next night.
The wait staff was friendly and fun, the atmosphere was cozy (complete with a fire in the fireplace) and the menu was extremely small, always a good sign. Jim had the chicken, I had the trout with a glass of wine, and everything was excellent. The dessert menu contained one item, Apple Tarte Tatin, and we shared a piece that was worth the splurge. On the way home, we declared the dinner a "top ten" vacation restaurant experience.
When we got back to the Carmel River Inn, Jim noticed a 220V outlet next to our parking spot, and so we were able to charge the car overnight. Another bonus. We headed home the next day at a leisurely pace, just for the fun of it.
It's also worth mentioning that before we left the cottage for the last time, and as instructed, I called our host to let her know we were "checking out". Highway 1 was still closed to the south because of the January rock slides, so it just didn't make sense to visit the cottage again the next day given that the check-out time was 11:00 am and we'd need to turn around and drive north to Monterey to start heading toward home ... or anywhere.
After answering the host's questions, and asking a few of my own to be sure the thermostat and windows were properly set, she asked about our plans for leaving town and then asked to meet with us in-person again before we left the area. (I was mentally prepared for the question, because Jim and I had speculated earlier in the day about how she might handle that final phone call.) I asked why we needed to meet, and she told me, "I'd like to put a little cash in your hands." She mentioned refunding half of our three-day credit. I told her that would be nice, reminded her that we were striving to have lots of alone time, and asked if she could credit our Visa card or mail us a check. Thankfully, she said she thought she could mail us a check. Then she asked if, after seeing the cottage, I had any suggestions for her. Of course I had suggestions, but only mentioned two; replacing the sofa and upgrading the bedding. She got extremely defensive, and ended her ... rant ... by telling me that she would not be replacing the sofa nor the bedding! I had more suggestions for her, but sensed she wasn't really interested in my ideas.
Because our original booking had occurred over a year before our stay, and all of the rebooking was managed outside the Vrbo app, we are unable to leave a review for our visit. I'm not sure what I'd have written anyway. While the host was unusual, I do think she's well-intentioned. I'm also guessing that she believed that all of her talk about mice and her efforts to repel them would put our minds at ease. i.e. She just didn't get that she was increasing our anxiety every time she spoke.
It's also worth mentioning that the vast majority of reviews for the cottage are totally positive. The setting really is unbelievably beautiful and the inside of the cottage was clean and thoughtfully and artistically appointed, if not a bit worn around the edges. I don't think there are any mice in there. If you're not afraid of the idea of mice being in there, you'd probably love it.
Even ten years ago, the loss of this much money would have really upset me, but one of the great things about being retired, or maybe just older, is that we have enough perspective to recognize that this wasn't even a first world problem, and it's highly unlikely to affect our lives in any way ... except that it's a funny story.
Plus, it's hard to get too worked up when you look at this view, even if it's just for a few hours a day.
Epilogue (Nov 2, 2023): When we arrived home from the trip, a partial refund check from the Vrbo host was sitting in our mailbox. The check was for half of our three-day credit or 24% of the total amount we paid to rent the Vrbo. (60% of the cost of our stay at the Carmel River Inn.)
Jim considers the check a win because it's an acknowledgement by the Vrvo host that our change in plans wasn't totally unreasonable. I agree, and choose to reflect on the fact that we were evolved enough to focus on the big picture and not let this "blip" ruin our vacation. Even at the height of our stress, we recognized that this was going to be a funny story.