I left Fray and headed toward Coban, which claims to have paved roads. A guy i talked to in the street while drinking atole told me that the road was only open for certain hours due to construction, so i got an early start. I never cease to be amazed at the cool tiny vehicles that populate places other than the US. It was raining, but staying put wasn't an attractive option, since Fray isn't really commodious. Luckily the mud there, while sloppy, doesn't really stick beyond a little surface layer. It was flying around, but the traction is still pretty good, and i could do some occasional drifting. This route really goes through some beautiful country. I'm sad that it wasn't clear, but had it been i'd probably have taken even longer to ride it since the scenery was so incredible. Some of these villages have only very recently been reachable by road. And then the fun began. The Guatemalan method of road construction seems to be to just tear the road to shit, then start rebuilding it, all without closing it or putting up andy kind of cones, or anything. Several sections were 1-car wide, and definitely would have required high-clearance. This is a fairly major route. Still stunning scenery: I was headed toward Lanquin, which are renowned caves. My dirt road turned to pavement after about 50k, then i had to negotiate another 10k or so of dirt to reach the caves, which turned out to be unremarkable. Those who have visited caves in the US will not likely be impressed by the Central American caves, which are somewhat dull and muddy by comparison. The ride, though, took me by a really beautiful river--it eventually heads to Rio Dulce, a tourist-y town. Coffee is everywhere. If you haven't ever seen it, it may seem to just blend in. Right now is harvest time in many places, so there are always guys on the side of the road with big bags of raw cherries. They sell them to the processors (for about Q1.35/lb) who then strip off the fruit and dry the beans, readying them for roasting or export. I once had a job roasting and tasting coffee and tea, so this aspect of the region is especially fascinating to me. After Lanquin i rode the spectacular, curvy paved road to Coban. This easily ranks as one of the best paved roads i've ever ridden--great, smooth pavement and a succession of curves that would be marked 20mph in the US, with NO straights in between them, and very little traffic. I managed to get my K270s onto their outermost knobs, which if you've ridden these tyres is a little unnerving until you get used to it. Along it there were reforestation projects--Guatemala has been plagued by rampant deforestation for a long time, but now they're starting to plant pine trees. Guys clear the underbrush with machetes--whole teams of them swinging their machetes 2" from the ground all day. It seems that another tool would be more effective, but they really get to it with the machetes. For rural Central Americans the machete is like an extension of the arm. More coffee, this time in a more organised farm. One of the misconceptions about coffee is what is meant by "Shade Grown". The reality is that good coffee won't grow in full sun--some shade is necessary for the plants to be healthy. The farmers prune the shade trees as necessary throughout the year to match the demands of the coffee bushes. This particular farm is somewhat less shady than most side-of-the-road coffee patches, but would probably still qualify as "Shade Grown". As i neared Coban i noticed the smell of Cardamom--it was really strong, and it's a pretty easily identifiable smell. I thought, 'wow, that's strange!', but soon learned that Cardamom is an important crop in the area. It seems to compliment the coffee by growing at lower altitudes. The plants are strange looking. Coban, the rainiest place i've been so far, is a beautiful city. There's quite a bit to do there and just outside of town. Next time: a tea cooperative, and more curvy roads!