When I first arrived in Rio, I experienced the most acute case of culture shock, I thought, in the history of mankind. I didn’t speak any Portuguese or know anything about the geographical layout of the city, about the transit, or where to purchase items I considered to be necessities. The food was different, the music was different, the soaps on TV were different. Nothing made any sense except sleep.
My body craved sleep more my first few weeks in Brazil than it had during final exam week in college, when I would force myself to stay awake for three days straight, cramming, fueled only by four –shot coffees and punk rock music. The fact that we walked between 5 and 20 kilometers a day didn’t help.
Around 9 pm every evening, sometimes even earlier, I would drag my feet up the steps to my apartment building, nod at the porter, and head for the 9th floor apartment I shared with my parents that first month. It was winter, so the sun would’ve disappeared much earlier. Perfect conditions for sleep—one would think.
Beds and beyond
I was lucky to have parents who wanted to help me settle into my new country. The unfortunate part was that it meant, in a place where renting is near impossible, that we shared a one bedroom apartment… and I took the couch (which was advertised as a bed online because the back folded down). The couch was really just a wooden platform covered with an inch of cushion and removable pillows and armrests. The mattress upon which my parents’ slept was a queen and had about an extra ½ inch of cushion and an attached plastic cover for hygienic purposes. Almost all mattresses I’ve seen in hotels and rental apartments in Rio have these, which can really be a turn off. I thought, if only I had some good sheets, maybe I could get over it.
Unfortunately, it can be difficult in Brazil to find what we call in the United States “decent sheets.” Anything over a 400 thread count is absurdly expensive and highly uncommon. Even if you do find it, beware… the bottom sheets with the elastic ends are very shallow, so even if you do get good sheets, they’ll most likely pop off in the middle of the night to leave you sleeping on only the plastic cover and a pool of sweat.
Solutions to the Bedding issues
Mattress covers will help significantly with the lack of cushion and provide an extra layer of protection against the creaking plastic bed lining. However, mattress covers without their own inner plastic lining can be difficult to find. I would suggest rolling one up tightly, binding it, and bringing it with you from home. It wouldn’t hurt to put it in your carry-on luggage, either. The overnight flight to Rio from the U.S. is a chilly one, and a mattress cover, I’ve found, is the best defense against airline air conditioning.
As for the sheets, if you have the option, ask for oversized top sheets and tie them underneath the mattress at all four corners. This prevents “poppage.” If that is not an option, I would suggest bringing a needle, thread, and large elastic strips to sew on to the sheets to provide an anchor around the bottom of the mattress.
Pillows are cheap if you would like to buy one in Rio. This is best for short stays. However, if you have a down pillow at home that you love and you’re planning on staying for a while, bring it. Your neck will thank you.
If You Really Want a Silent Night
The streets in Rio are noisy. Most buses begin running around 5:00 a.m. and go late into the evening. If you are a light sleeper, this can be torture. To lessen the noise, when you are searching for an apartment, try to find one on a street where buses are not allowed to run. An area called Leme, for example, just north of Copacabana, has many streets where buses do not run, but main bus stops are only a short walk away. Even a block away from main lines, you’ll notice a significant noise difference.
You may, however, want to stay closer to the beach or in some particular area where buses and heavy traffic are unavoidable. If this is true, bring some ear plugs. It may seem goofy, but you’ll sleep better and have more energy than all of your travel buddies. If you forget to pack your ear plugs, you can buy them in Brazil. Keep in mind, though, that they’ll be more expensive and harder to find. I’ve only ever seen earplugs for swimming in the drugstores, which are not as comfortable, but will still get the job done.