We first visited Big Sur as COVID was becoming less of a concern in January of 2022. Still cautious, we stayed in a cute (new) tiny house at the Carmel River Inn which suited us perfectly, but only for three nights, because the real purpose of the trip was to see how our (electric) car performed on a road trip. (It did great.) The views as we drove down the coast to Big Sur and beyond were stunning.
The area was so beautiful, and there was so much we didn't have time to do, so we vowed to return again soon and stay longer.
That led us to book five nights in January of 2023; this time at a tiny cottage on a cliff in Big Sur with beautiful views of the ocean. It would give us the opportunity to experience even more of the scenery and eliminate a lot of driving. It was a splurge, but we figured we aren't getting any younger, so why not?
We found the place via Vrbo and were instructed to contact the owner before booking to explain "a little about ourselves". We did, and that led us down an ... interesting ... application process. After reviewing the ten documents we were sent (18 pages in all), and returning the three forms that required initials, signature and/or answers (e.g. "What do you plan to do in Big Sur?"), I was invited to continue the application process with a phone interview.
The owner was inquisitive; she wanted to know our ages and how we spend our time, whether or not we'd been to Big Sur previously, and she was eager to answer all of our questions about the property and the area. I was eager to get off the phone, so after supplying polite (and enthusiastic) answers to her questions, I let her know that my husband wasn't eager to sleep with mice (nor was I, for that matter), and she confirmed that had never been a problem. Finally, we wrapped up the call, she rendered her verdict ("approved"), and we exchanged our good-byes.
Was I starting to wonder if this had progressed from unusual to weird? Yes. But I figured the owner might have had some sketchy renters in the past, and I was eager to help her understand that we'd be the perfect guests. I wanted to give her the benefit of the doubt, and I did.
But more importantly ... I had passed all of the tests! I was then invited to pre-pay the splurge-level price to reserve the little cottage by the sea. Confident that this would be one of those once-in-a-lifetime experiences, I was starting to feel like I'd been accepted into an elite group. It really didn't occur to me that it might have been smart to slowly back away from this opportunity. Afterall, it was already starting to feel like the beginning of a really great, and somewhat humorous, story.
And the views ...
As luck would have it, the weather reports started predicting rain showers all day and every day of our stay. It wasn't what we were hoping for, but we've always been able to entertain ourselves, so started to plan some indoor activities. We were even convincing ourselves that watching the rain along the coast might be a ... different ... sort of beauty. Given that the place boasts a total lack of connectivity, we figured we might even experience some sort of spiritual awakening or something.
The day before we were scheduled to leave, and after watching the weather reports degrade from rainy to muddy to flooding to rock slides, we were informed that all access to the rental was blocked, so we'd need to re-book our visit. On one of the pages of one of the ten documents we were sent, it clearly stated that refunds were not an option, but we were happy to rebook and selected some new dates in March, so that wasn't a problem. Really, it felt like a stroke of good luck given the weather forecast.
Again we were sent ten documents, and again we completed and returned three of them. We even let ourselves hope that we might have some nicer weather. All was not lost, and once again, we appreciated the flexibility of being retired.
Fast forward a month, and Jim hurt his back; big time. It became immediately obvious that there was no way we were going to be driving to California anytime soon, so once he was home from the hospital (a relatively quick trip to the ER) and we'd worked ourselves into a healing routine, I contacted our Vrbo host to let her know about the injury and to ask about rescheduling ... again.
Suddenly, the long application and interview process was starting to feel like a benefit; after all, the host and I had become friends, and I figured that was going to be a real benefit since we'd need a favor to re-book again. (The ten documents clearly stated that our problems were not the hosts' problems.) But even though I thought we'd become "friends", I quickly realized that it hadn't rendered any of those documents we'd signed moot, and that clearly meant "No Refunds!" But why worry about money, when the value of good health had just become so obvious to us?
My new "friend", the host, generously offered to credit us for any days she was able to re-book during our scheduled stay. That ended up being three nights, so all was not lost (just two of the five nights), and we re-booked for October. She offered to let us re-purchase the two nights we'd lost, but my perspective had changed, and I wasn't willing to dig this hole any deeper. Again, we were sent ten forms, and again we completed and re-submitted the three requiring answers, initials, and/or signatures.
Jim's back eventually healed, and on a Saturday in late October, we pulled out of the driveway, and headed toward California. We planned a leisurely drive with multiple stops along the way including Mesa Verde National Park and the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum in Simi Valley north of LA. The weather was beautiful, and all was right in our little corner of world (if not chaotic in other places like Washington DC, Ukraine, Israel and Palestine).
The drive to California, and then up the coast, was really beautiful! Nature was clearly on our side this time around.
Our Big Sur Vrbo host instructed us (three times) to text when we were within an hour of the cottage. And just to prove how responsible we were, I texted the night before our arrival to confirm that we were in the the state and to let her know what time we expected to arrive the next day. We'd been informed that the key to the cottage was hidden onsite, and we could let ourselves in, but still the owner seemed determined to understand all the details surrounding our arrival. Surely they'd had issues with others in the past, right?
Along the way, Jim commented about how easy it is to travel when there are no deadlines, and that had proven to be true, so when the owner suggested that we should meet up at the Starbucks in Carmel before checking in, just to say hello, we were a little disappointed, but again, I was determined to prove we were friendly, responsible, sociable, and all the other good stuff I assumed she sought from her best renters. I even thought she might like us so much she might decide to throw in the two nights we'd paid for originally, but lost when we re-booked the second time. Thank goodness we'd brought extra clothes, I was starting to imagine the extended stay already.
We arrived at the Starbucks five minutes early and smiled profusely at every woman who walked through the door. They all smiled back, but none seemed at all interested in who we might be. Finally, five minutes after the scheduled meeting time, I pulled out my phone to text our host and saw her text to me: "I am parked behind Starbucks in a white Volkswagen camper van. See you soon." Sure enough, we walked around to the back of the building and there she was, looking like a supermodel posing for an Instagram photo.
We exchanged pleasantries, and then she got down to business (yet again), summarizing rules, instructions, questions and guidelines. Early on in the conversation she said, "something recently chewed a hole through the screen, so don't open the window" and "don't leave the door open, because we don't want whatever chewed through the screen to get inside" and "a guy will be by to fix the screen tomorrow". I took one look at Jim, and knew we were in trouble.
Click here to read what happened next ...