Paris is shifting further away from New York. And Iceland? Iceland and its 320,000 inhabitants aren’t going anywhere. They’re stuck right in the middle of this gradual, but extraordinarily violent breakup.
It’s the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates that are causing this shift—and Iceland sits on top of these plates; they’re moving apart approximately 2.5 centimetres each year. Flights across the Atlantic don’t just feel longer; they actually are getting longer. As the plates split deep below the earth, lava erupts from the cracks and crevices that form, and this leaves Iceland on a growing pile of volatile lava fields.
Icelanders are used to having volcanoes erupt in their backyards. It happens about once every five years. The one that sent an ash cloud over most of Europe in 2010—Eyjafjallajökull—wasn’t even a big explosion by Icelandic standards. Locals called it “a tourist explosion.”
There is, though, a kind of calm to be had at the eye of this geologic storm.
Maybe it’s because of the seat warmers. The snow outside is blowing so hard it stings when it hits my face, but inside this Land Rover—the new Discovery Sport model—all is warm and peaceful.
Even though it’s morning, I’m driving through pure darkness. In January, the sun doesn’t rise until 10 a.m. It feels like there are large, looming mountains to my left, but there’s nothing to see out of the side window other than shadows, and shadows of shadows.
Inside the vehicle, the satellite navigation shows a lake immediately to my right, however, it’s too dark to tell. But the Land Rover tracks true, its all-wheel drive system—reinvented over the past few decades— ensures the car goes exactly where I point it, even on this road made purely of snow.
As the sun comes up, it reveals the most beautiful landscape on earth. There is no point mincing words here. During winter, the country is in a perpetual state of sunrise and sunset—all pink and orange light, shining over monochrome rock and snow. There are no trees to block the view; you can see for miles and miles.
The Discovery Sport may be the smallest member of the Land Rover lineup, but it can still carry seven passengers—although two had better be little. Its panoramic glass roof gives the cabin an airy feel, much like a sunroom. Every surface that requires touching—seat and steering wheel—is heated, and there are six USB ports, meaning nearly every passenger has the option to plug in his or her smartphone.
We’re almost at our hotel in Reykjavík when our guide casually informs us there’s a volcano going off right now. But it’s in the uninhabited middle part of the island, so, you know, don’t worry.
This should have been a terrifying drive: through blizzards and frigid rivers where we were partially submerged in water, over glaciers and snow and ice, across pitch-black landscapes. But the Land Rover imparts an air of confidence to the whole adventure by virtue of its overabundant capabilities in extreme conditions. Much like Icelanders, this vehicle takes the ever-changing environment in stride.