I landed in Amman (along with 10 other tourists who joined the Jordan tour package) close to mid-day after a three and a half hour flight from Dubai. I was feeling exhausted from the long day in the office the day before, and then straight to the airport to catch the flight at midnight.I was that aloof guy since I didn’t engage in small talk let alone get to know who are these people joining the tour. It was my first time joining any packaged tour (so I can get a Jordan visa easy free) so I don’t know how to deal with such pleasantries. My trips were always a solo-trip. I enjoy such quiet time by myself. This time, it’ll be different. I don’t want to be that selfish prick isolating myself most of the time.
It didn’t take long to get my visa validated at the airport and soon, a coaster was waiting which drove to our hotel. I wanted to rest but I don’t want to waste my time this early. I know this country has a lot to offer and I only have a very limited time to explore the country let alone soak myself with the Jordanian experience.
My first day in Amman was a Free Day. The tour will officially start the next day and as expected, it will be quite hectic and even more tiring. I could have opted to take the rest of the day chilling in our hotel room but then, that is just not a smart thing to do. I did my online research and then I decided that I will spend my day roaming around Rainbow Street. The name alone sparked my curiosity on what can I see over there and why it is named as such. I watched Mark Wein‘s video of Rainbow street over and over getting some inspiration on what to do and where to go.
By 4 PM, I went downstairs to hail a cab. My selfish initial plan to go by myself didn’t happen as the rest of the group tagged along. Maybe this is the start of a different experience traveling, I thought. And besides, carpooling is more economical so yeah, why not.
Where is Rainbow Street?
Rainbow Street’s actual name is Abu Bakr al Siddiq and is located on First Circle near downtown Amman. It was around 9km from the hotel where we were staying and the cab fare was around 6 JD (Jordanian dinar). What it is a strip of restaurants and pubs. My initial reaction was: So it’s like Souq Waqif (if you’re from Doha) or Souq Madinat Jumeirah (if you’re from Dubai). I asked the cab driver to drop us off and started walking through the alleys of the entire rainbow street. The place offers a lot of choices for diners and tourists. Restaurants are lined up next to each other serving a wide array of dishes aside from traditional Jordanian and Middle Eastern food. There were establishments too that serve organic dishes and even camel burger. Disclosure: I used to enjoy camel meat back in the day when I was not yet a pescatarian. I could have ordered one juicy camel burger here but I can’t and I won’t. I had three things on my head (which I got from Mark’s Youtube channel) going to this place: Gerard’s Ice cream, falafel, and Books@Cafe. If there’ll be a number four, I wanted to visit the Hamam if I still have time.
Gerards Ice Cream
Gerards ice cream is one of Jordan’s popular brands which has been serving delectable scoops of frozen delis since 1995. One personal rule I follow is to go local every time I travel. I didn’t come to Jordan to get the same brand of ice cream I can have back in Doha or even in the Philippines. At the moment, Gerard hasn’t expanded yet across the region and there are only four locations across Jordan (mostly in Amman).
What is special about this ice cream? They serve flavors that are unique and signature blends that you wouldn’t normally have elsewhere. I decided to try a scoop of their Arabic ice cream for 1.29 JD. True to its name, it is a blend of flavors and ingredients that are common in the region: pistachio and rose water among others (I can’t identify). Gerards also serve milkshakes and waffles and stores are open from 11 A.M. to 12 MN.
“Why would you go there? It’s a gay cafe” said the drivers and bystanders whom we asked for directions with.
This is what welcomed us as we continue to walk around and try to locate this cafe. It seems that there is a stigma with the place but all the more I am curious to see it for myself. It was interesting to see what TripAdvisor and Lonely Planet would call: “an LGBT-friendly place” in an Arab country. I am aware that among all the Arab countries in the region, Jordan is one if not the most advanced with LGBT rights. Personally, this could probably be the highlight of my Rainbow Street trip.
After several minutes of walking and trying to figure out what the Google Map was saying, we arrived at this Cafe/Book Store. It is located in a rather unconventional place towards the end of the street right by the corner of a seemingly residential area. It was Friday and the place is getting busy as groups of friends started coming. It was far from the typical gay stereotype place that most would expect. The place looked cozy with a quaint bookstore downstairs and on the second floor is where the cafe is. Brightly painted walls will greet the guests as they take the stairs going to the cafe. There were even families dining when we arrived which immediately squandered my wrong visual impression of the place.
Aside from coffee and smoothies, they serve snacks and quick bites and even hookah and beer. Yes, that’s how liberal this place is. The staff did a really good job attending to our needs although the service was a bit slow but I was on the lenient side that day as I was just observing how the place was. That surreal feeling that I have ticked off one thing on my list and realizing that it is indeed possible to have an LGBT-friendly place in a country like Jordan. Acceptance and respect are the keys to having a peaceful coexistence. I hope that spirit of understanding spread and become contagious. I think we can all live in a more peaceful world if that will happen.
What I enjoyed the most in this place is the panoramic view of Amman from the terrace. I understand why this place would be packed especially around sunset and towards the early evening as you would see the transition of the view from daylight to the brightly lit houses when it gets dark. Jordan, being hilly, the houses are situated on a slope which reminded me much of the favelas of Brazil (only this time, on a monochrome shade). I was smiling from ear to ear thinking it is all worth the long walk.
The long walks made me famished and after Books@Cafe, the group decided to look for that area in Rainbow Street where colourful umbrellas were neatly hung in rows. Our source? A random photo posted on Google.
We didn’t even know the name of the place or a single hint. All we know is that it is a tall flight of stairs is below it. This is the most detailed we can ever get. It was that typical needle in a haystack situation.
As we try to track the location asking for directions and even showing the photo to strangers and vendors on the street, we passed by a number of falafel stalls which made me even more hungry.
Most travelers would say that Jordan serves one of the tastiest falafels you can ever try and I cannot wait to get myself a huge wrap. I know that going to this place being a pescatarian, my food choices will be limited so I am happy and satisfied having myself fresh falafels. I had one large wrap and a bottle of water for 2JD. Hallelujah!
The falafel I had indeed tasted different from what I usually have in Doha. I don’t know what was in it but perhaps the freshness of the ingredients makes a whole lot of difference with flavor.
The search for those umbrellas ended up with a rather disappointment when we finally reached the place only to find out that the umbrellas have been taken out just weeks before we came and now, it is just an empty and dull stairs adorned by plant pots on both sides.
Did I find a rainbow?
So after the entire afternoon of shenanigans on this maze-like street, did I find the answer why this is called Rainbow street? Honestly, no. I did not. Although I found this:
But whether I have the answer or not, I was convinced that my I found a pot of gold on this trip to Rainbow street. I found how rich and diverse this city is and it would be a pity to miss it. If this is a glimpse of what Jordan has to offer during my stay, I can’t wait to learn more about this country.
Have you been to Rainbow street? What is your favorite experience? Do you have any must-try restaurants? Feel free to share your suggestions in the comment section below.