Today was yet another early start, and unfortunately without breakfast, but we had something pretty exciting to wake up for. We had been promised a tour of the Miravalles geothermal electricity generating facility about 25km away from Liberia, after which we would continue with our journey until we reached San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica. We had learnt by now that even though the distance was short, only around 150 miles, everything takes much longer than expected, and with hindsight, I was very glad we had learnt this lesson prior to the drive today…
The day started with great weather, and the drive over to the power station was fast and exciting; given the short distance we had to cover today, we could afford to really push the car’s speed as we didn’t have to worry about the state of charge. When we got there, we were treated to a very interesting presentation on how the whole facility works, and amongst other things, how this one facility, the only one of its kind in Costa Rica, generates 15% of the nation’s electricity! Combined with 75% from hydro and wind power, Costa Rica has 90% renewable energy which is quite an achievement given the country’s limited resources.
During the presentation however, the rain broke away from its traditional pattern of starting in the afternoon, and instead came down in full force at around 10am. Despite the weather however, we were still able to complete an awe-inspiring tour of the geothermal facility, including going up onto the flanks of the Miravalles volcano to see natural steam and hot water issuing forth from the earth. Rivers of water, so hot that you couldn’t even touch, flowed around us, steam was everywhere, and the smell of sulphur filled the air…this was a truly awesome sight! The tour was completed by seeing one of the extraction wells, the water/steam separator unit, and finally the generator hall where the steam is passed through turbines which convert the steam’s expansion into electricity.
Despite the fascinating nature of the site, time was ticking on and we had to leave, so after a quick lunch in the local town, we headed back to the car which was parked at the geothermal plant in order to get moving to San Jose. Now, normally there is a friendly tussle among the team as to who drives the car, but on this occasion the weather was so horrible; clouds, wind, rain and cold a.k.a. English weather, that it was only myself that was prepared to drive with Kevin the cameraman accompanying me to try and get some dramatic rain shots.
While the daylight continued, the driving was pretty easy going with great road conditions and only a small reduction in visibility due to the rain. But when darkness fell, everything got much worse. To understand why, I have to explain a little bit about driving the SRZero in the rain. Normally, any speed above around 40mph works out well as the rain goes over the top of the vehicle, so you don’t get much water in the car, the wind clears the helmet visors of rain, and visibility is generally acceptable. But on this occasion, traffic on the single lane Pan-American Highway was slowed to a crawl as the big trucks and lorries struggled to climb the 1000m up to San Jose.
This meant that I was a) getting soaked b) getting very cold as we were climbing in altitude c) couldn’t see anything but water droplets out of my visor, and d) my worst; oncoming cars seeing the SRZero and saluting us with a flash of their raised beams. This blinded me every time a car drove past, and ruined my night vision for the next few seconds. And on these occasions, I completely lost sight of where the road finished and the verge/cliff/jungle/other roadside hazard began. It was the most dangerous driving I had ever encountered, but 6 hours later when we safely rolled into the secure compound of the British Ambassador’s residence, the feeling of accomplishment was exhilarating. The SRZero was truly conquering the Americas!
After putting the SRZero into the Ambassador’s garage to sleep for the night, we headed for our hotel which had kindly been booked and paid for by KPMG and Capris, the local distributors for National Instruments. We were expecting a small hotel somewhere, but it turned out to be a 5* Intercontinental hotel! We were bowled over by the luxury of the place, but being as it was a Saturday night, we didn’t hang around for too long as food and nightlife beckoned!
I would like to thank Eric, the driver from the Embassy, for being such a great driver and leading us into and around San Jose. Also, many thanks to the Embassy, KPMG and Capris for all their help in organising accommodation and events. Amazingly, more surprises from them were in store for us on the Monday to follow…