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Notes from Abroad: Perspective Gained as Innkeeper-Turned-Guest — or — The View From the Other Side of the Check-In Desk: The Fine Art of Lodging Reviews

Fortunately, it doesn’t happen often, but yes, we do get the occasional complaint and have received a couple of not-very-nice reviews. My favorite is from a Brit who ignored our detailed arrival instructions (which have been efficiently bringing guests here for nine years), failed to tell us when he would be arriving, and had apparently lost the carefully-made location map we sent him.

He had to (gasp!) ask for directions. A friendly local he had accosted actually brought him to our door. And, since we didn’t have an ETA, he had to wait a bit to be checked in.

To me, this would make for a fun travel story. To him, it was The End Of The World. He was very upset upon arrival and would not accept my repeated apologies, even though his discombooberation was no fault of ours. Said gentleman later wrote an online review, titled “Charming comfortable place – but really poor organisation.” (He also dissed my lovingly made map…)

There are those who simply shouldn’t travel. (Or maybe, they should only vacation in the first world.)

People get lost, wires get crossed, planes, trains and buses get delayed—stuff simply happens. (More often than not, in the third world.) It’s an integral part of what real travel is. If mishaps are so traumatic, it’s probably best to stick to cruise boats (assuming there are no icebergs around, that is). Or, just stay home, where everything is nice and safe and predictable.

Still, every single dissatisfied guest hurts, even the unreasonable ones. I’ve been trying to thicken my skin, without noticeable results. Recently, however, a friendly guest helped me put it all in perspective. We were sitting in the patio, talking about the Casita and the subject of Tripadvisor came up. I told her my concerns. “Oh, we don’t pay attention to every malcontent,” she said. “We look at all the reviews and try to get an overall picture.”


Of course, the Casita isn’t perfect (trust me, nobody knows better than i) and we do sometimes make mistakes. But, we care and we try—two attitudes that are not exactly omnipresent in today’s business world. (Have you flown with a U.S. airline recently?)

For the price and for what you get—and, more importantly for what you don’t get—i have to say that Casita de las Flores is absolutely fabulous! Consider a recent travel experience of my own:

(It made for what i think is a fun story.)


I’m traveling in Costa Rica and paying more than $45 US for a single room with this view:

Please note the homey touches, such as

junk heap on abandoned parking lot ringed by razor wire

blinding all-nite streetlight, and the busy thoroughfare behind.

Turns out that calle is San Jose’s Avenida Central (guess what that means–yes, mucho traffico). Another detail perhaps not visible in the photo—the razor wire on the fence and the camera aimed at my windows. (Nothing gives you that warm, fuzzy, at-home feeling like a security camera.)

The room itself is pretty nice, if bare. It’s in a 1930’s home near downtown San Jose. The tile in the hallway is gorgeous and the room has hardwood floors (tons of hardwood around here) and huge arched windows, but…there is a sad, dismal, depressing fluorescent (ack!) energy-saver bulb in overhead lamp. Makes me think (rather vividly) of movie interrogations. Or insane asylums. (PS: we do use energy saving bulbs at the Casita, but only the modern, bright, warm, fuzzy-light bulbs)

Meanwhile, my Costa Rica windows have no curtains, just tropical-looking bamboo-type blinds which no longer open unless you roll them by hand and try to tie them off with dangling bits of erstwhile pull cord. But really, this is a blessing, given the view.

At night, I am living in a Film Noir, with bright yellow 4000-watt stripes zig zagging across the bed and back wall. In order to sleep, I must carefully position my head where the bit of wall between the windows blocks the all-night streetlight blazing in.

In the morning, I wake up at 6:00 am, squinting and roasting in stripes with hot sun pouring in. Also, the unscreened windows must be kept closed to block at least part of the noise from the small freeway just beyond the junk heap. (Hot, hot, hot, and stuffy.) And, saddest of all, for me–no fan, ceiling or otherwise. No moving air in the tropics, in a room whose windows are far better closed. (PS: each room at the Casita has a working ceiling fan, and a heater, for winter).

A bonus: squeakiest bed imaginable. Cannot even think of moving without unmusical accompaniment.

Not to be PI (politcally incorrect), but I’m guessing it’s owned by absentee landlords, who are probably blind (straight) men. Very low on creature comforts or atmospheric touches. When decorating the Casita, at least, I imagined myself sleeping in the rooms, cooking in the kitchen, sitting on the patio—and I tried to include the (affordable) comforts I would need, were I my guest. (Unfortunately, the Jacuzzi was a bit out of our price range, and there just wasn’t anywhere to put private baths, or I woulda.)

Ok, so apart from the hardwood floors and cool hall, my room kinda sucks, aesthetically speaking. But the people are very nice and the sheets are clean. There’s wifi. All in all, it’s been a safe, comfortable home base for my forays into town.

So, guess what? I am not going to go online and give them a bad review. I shall give the desk person some friendly, annoying suggestions (that will most likely be ignored) and be on my way. Tolerance is a beautiful thing, yes? (She says after venting to complete strangers.)

But really, it’s not their fault. I take responsibility for my aesthetic sensitivities and will simply have to pay more to get the little things that make me comfortable.

One more thing.

This is for the cranky guy who complained to the universe at large (on Tripadvisor) about the detailed Casita map (lovingly and personally drawn and written by yours truly, then photocopied with care).

The map of San Jose provided by the hotel is an antique. And not in a good way. Borrowed from somewhere (in the early seventies, I’m guessing), it is at least an 8th generation photocopy. No black in evidence, only grey and white.

Someone tried, though. He or she went in and pasted numbers on a handful of places of interest (half the time, however, the number blots out the name and/or shape of the edifice it marks).

Somewhere along the Xerox chain, the numbers in the key describing what each place actually is have conveniently been cut off. So the map numerals remain mysterious symbols obscuring unknown landmarks that you simply must see.

(Or maybe it’s a travel game: identify the building and match the number with the description. Hours of fun for the entire family.)

After an hour or so of inept circling whilst searching for a recommended restaurant, with blood sugar dangerously low, I try showing the map to locals, asking how to get there from here. I might as well have a map of downtown Hong Kong in my hands. The helpful Josephinos try, but are unable to decipher it.

Of course, most of the time, they don’t even know what street we’re on. This is one of the many charms of Costa Rica. People do not use street addresses. They speak in landmarks…”The hardware store? It’s 500 meters west of the whatsit.” (Which is fine if you know where the whatsit is…)

Complain about OUR place, our map will you? Why I oughtta….

But it’s all good. Great, actually.

Don’t worry, be happy­—we’re traveling, what luck! Do you realize what a small percentage of people on the planet actually have this luxury? (If you do know that number, please tell me cause i’d love to know.)

Pura vida,

Casita de las Flores B&K (Bed and Kitchen)
San Miguel de Allende, Mexico budget accommodations

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