18 May 2010

Madam, surely you jest - the horror of the Yosemite West/Mariposa KOA

Into every vacation one horror must fall, right? It wouldn't be a trip without something to make you lose your shit composure. It's why we travel - to go out into the world and find what is out there...and inevitably some of it is maddening, frustrating, disgusting and stupid.

CC and I spent the first two nights of our trip at a basic motel in Mariposa, 35 miles outside the gates of Yosemite. It had everything we needed - comfy beds and a TV with cable. On the first night, we flopped on the beds, drank rosé wine and watched the 2-hour finale of America's Next Top Model. Perfect girly vacation, so far.

The motel was fully booked for the weekend, so for days 3 and 4, we had arranged housing at a KOA "Kampground" somewhat nearer western gate of Yosemite. CC said her "friend" had told her the KOA was a nice place. I was skeptical because I remembered KOAs from my youth.

When I was a kid, my family camped a lot and we considered KOAs the campground of last resort. They always seemed to be little more than dirt parking lots kitted out with the most minimal, rundown and cheesy facilities. I remember showers that were alternately freezing and scalding...laundry rooms with dustballs and spiders in the corners...sad-eyed, filthy children chewing on cold hot dogs as we walked past to the unheated swimming pool.

On our way into Yosemite on day 3, we drove through the Yosemite West/Mariposa KOA Kampground and, much to my surprise, it looked nice. Leafy and cool, with a little lake and these tiny log "Kabins." One of the kabins was to be our home for the night, but it was too early to check in, so we continued on to Yosemite and returned just as the sun was setting about 8 pm.

The office was closing and the clerk was locking up, but she told us the key was inside our kabin, which was across the lake. We drove across a long bridge, down a gravel road, past a bunch of RVs and found our place, K22, which looked charming as hell from the outside. It had a little wooden swing on the front porch, a barbecue grill and a picnic table outside overlooking the green lake.

We walked inside. Hm. One small room with a double bedstead with a thin, plastic covered mattress. A fanlight in the ceiling. A tiny table attached to the wall. Another very small room with 2 bunk beds jammed in. And...and nothing.

"CC?" I asked. "Where's the bathroom?"

We looked around hopefully, comically, as if another door might appear that would lead us to the facilities. We walked outside, all the way around the Kabin, still with a wisp of possibility.


We stood around outside with our hands on our hips, peering into the falling darkness for some sort of bathroom nearby. CC dug out the little map they had given us. It is copyrighted, so I have taken the liberty of producing my own version:

The nearest bathroom - and running water - was about 1/4 mile away down a gravel road, over a bridge.

Have I mentioned that I have the World's Tiniest Bladder? And have I told you about the blisters I had all over my feet from hiking around all day? No?

"Not acceptable!" I barked. "This is ridiculous."
"It will be fine," said CC. Have I mentioned that CC is the most positive-thinking person on earth?
"No it won't!" I yelled. "I am not meant for this type of thing!"
"I'll walk you to the bathroom," she said. "I have a flashlight."
"Oh, yeah, right, three times a night we're going to walk 1/2 mile round trip to the bathroom in the pitch dark over a bridge in an area with BEARS," I shot back. "No, we aren't."

So then, at my insistence, we drove back down to Mariposa in a futile attempt to find a motel. The 10-mile trip down was silent and tension-filled. Occasionally CC would try to placate me and I would snap at her. We scoured Mariposa's eight motels and one charming inn, but the only room we could find was at a filthy Super 8 - one king bed in a smoking room.

After holding my head in my hands a bit, I decided no. Even getting eaten by bears was better than that.

The drive back through the black night to the Yosemite West/Mariposa KOA was even more silent. I could feel my shoulders creeping up around my ears and my back muscles locking up.

I walked in the kabin and threw my stuff on the double bed. I was in such a foul mood that I didn't even put on the pretense of asking CC if it was ok. I relegated her to the bunk beds with no consideration whatsoever. As I put my sheets on the plastic mattress, she said "It will be FUN!"

"Don't you even try to make this ok," I hissed.

I laid on my bed blankly looking at the glaring ceiling light (the only light there was), a bottle of warm screw-top chardonnay clutched in my hand. I didn't have a cup, so I drank out of the bottle. The warm wine was so awful that I could only choke down a couple of swallows before I abandoned the hope of reaching drunken oblivion.

I could hear the sound of CC flipping the pages of a newspaper in the other room and people crunching through the gravel on the long walk to the bathrooms. I laid there thinking of how I was going to get through the night - should I pee outside on the ground? Make the walk, even though my feet were shredded? Or...

I spotted the plastic trash can, which was lined with a plastic bag. The light bulb went on over my head.

Yes, I did, my people. I got up three times that night and squatted to pee into a trash can. I put some paper towels in for sound dampening and stuck it out on the porch between uses.

I felt pretty bad that I was leaving the staff a trash can full of pee, but I was also furious that they would rent me a toiletless kabin for $110 a night.

When we were leaving before the office opened in the morning, I wrote a note on the pay envelope, asking not to be charged and explaining my issues with the kabin and telling them we would not be staying a second night.

"Do you feel better now?" CC asked.
"Let us leave this wasteland and brush its dirt from the hem of our robes and never speak of this again," I said grandly, determined to resurrect my good mood.

Breakfast at the historic Ahwahnee Hotel in the park, complete with brioche French toast and a courtly Romanian waiter helped me to put the KOA behind me. Later in the day, I apologized to CC for my bad behavior.

When I got home, I checked my bank statement online and of course, they had not removed the charge.

I emailed them and asked for a refund, given that our lodging was actually not lodging, but a cramped, facilityless hellhole on earth. They sent this charming reply:
Your reservation was made online and it does have what each kabin has. It isn't the campgrounds fault you didn't read what you reserved. You could of chose a lodge with bathroom and kitchen. The kabin you chose is exactly 200 foot steps to the restroom and we do not have bears.
Have a good day
Yosemite Mariposa KOA

Then I didn't feel so bad about the pee. People who don't use apostrophes and who don't know that it should be "could have" instead of "could of" deserve whatever they get.


Joie said...

You are my hero. That is all.

Nance said...

Your write. Its a shame. They should of taken the charge of you're statement.

(Sorry. I couldn't resist.)

Barnmaven said...

Now don't you wish you'd left them an even better present in the trash can?

mar said...

this is what went through my brain when i read the e-mail. bad enough to have to put up with one night of that, but to be charged...
hope the trip overall made up for that experience. reminds me of spring break in a london hostel, wherein we ended up staying in a holiday inn express for the same amount the 2nd half

Isabella Golightly said...

Yup. You got it. It's almost a shame you didn't have to do a number two in the bin. Oooooooooooooooeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeewwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww

Anonymous said...

You poor thing! I have researched the Kabins as I planned to take trips with my father in his motorhome. They are really just wooden tents with beds in them. Given that I know all about the Kabins, I cannot imagine checking in without that foreknowledge. The whole time I was reading this, I was thinking, "get a bucket." I cheered when you finally mentioned the trash can... Did your Kabin have a cute little front porch with rocking chairs?

Anonymous said...

People who run campgrounds don't have to have perfect grammar and spelling skills to do a good job.

It wasn't their responsibility to meet your needs.

It was not their responsibility reimburse you after you used the facility, especially not when there are a lot of people who gladly pay the same money for the same cabin with no complaint - because they READ THE WEBSITE AND THE MAP AND IF THEY DIDN'T WANT TO WALK TO THE BATHROOM OR SLEEP ON THAT KIND OF BED, THEY MADE OTHER ARRANGEMENTS.

The fact that you trusted someone else to make the arrangements does not give you the right to blame others and treat them with less than common decency. You can do it. But not everyone thinks you are a hero for doing so.

Jessica said...

Well. Then. Oh, my.... LOL. I think maybe Anon is a KOA employee.

So I won't feel bad telling you that I peed in a Nalgene bottle for three nights the last time I went camping. And the bathroom was just right across the road. Why? Because I sleep in the buff, so I would have had to get dressed each time, and I HATE making that zipper noise which sounds like thunder at 2 am in a silent campground. If I had had an isolated site I would have just peed under a tree, but with 5 tents within 50 feet, it was easier to just pee in the bottle. Next time I go camping, I am taking a lot of sleepy drugs.

SUEB0B said...

Jessica - haha I think you're right about the employee thing.

The funny part is that I DID make the arrangements and I DID read the website. It just honestly never occurred to me that a place that charged $110 a night wouldn't have a bathroom. It was beyond my imagination! The only experience I have had before renting a cabin was a ski cabin that had a hot tub, a pool table and a dishwasher, so I guess my perspective was skewed.

My real problem with the email from the KOA was not the bad English (though I think if you are conducting business correspondence, you ought to be able to write in business English), but its tone. If they had said "We are sorry that our accommodations did not meet your expectations. Unfortunately, you must have misunderstood the terms on the website. We regret your disappointment and will review the website to make sure it is clear for future guests, but we cannot offer you a refund," that would have been much nicer.

I think this sentence "It wasn't their responsibility to meet your needs" says a lot about someone's approach to customer service!

Patois42 said...

I'm actually rather impressed that KOA bothers checking to see what people are saying about them. Nice work, Anon.

I just wish that fact would have gotten you a refund.

SUEB0B said...

Patois - I know, right? I'm always surprised when businesses DON'T have a google alerts set up for their name so they can see what people are saying about them.

I have google alerts set up for "Red Stapler," "Suebob" and my real name. It's simple enough to do.

Anonymous said...

Oh no, we are going to a KOA at Manchester Beach. Hope our bathrooms aren't far!
We have gone to Yosemite so many times. Always loved it. Stayed in hotels mostly, that's the best way to camp! :)

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