Caroline is this year's secretary of the Nakie Women's Club and designated hostess for our stay. We're at the Nakie Women's Guesthouse in Taloa Village on Nguna (pronounced 'Noona'), the largest of the offshore islands in North Efate. It's a mere 32kms as the crow flies from the bustling town of Port Vila, but it feels like we're a million miles away.
Leiwia (left) and our hostess, Caroline (right) from the Nakie Women's Guesthouse.
As the only guests we get the double room, a compact space that fits a "married" (ie. a double) bed and a small table. The blue walls are offset by blue and white island floral curtains drawn across two screened and louvred windows. Next door is a room of equal size with two single beds. Beyond that there's a large communal area, decorated only with a small dining table in one corner and a painted mural on the far wall. Up to ten guests can sleep here on mattresses on the floor, making it ideal for groups travelling together. A well-equipped kitchen including a gas stove with an oven, cooking utensils and a sink, completes the guesthouse accommodation.
Shared ablutions are located in an outhouse in the back garden, a cold-water shower and separate bucket flush toilet, basic but clean.
The stand-out feature of the guesthouse is its deep, shady front verandah cooled by sea breezes. It's here that we spend most of our time watching village life wander by; Pikininis being pushed along the narrow hedged pathways in wheelbarrows piled high with fire wood and young girls laughing and chatting as they carry buckets of water for washing between them. Anytime we're spotted we're treated to a friendly wave and "hello".
Nakie Women's Guesthouse with it's shaded verandah and our room with the "married bed".
The Nakie Women's Guesthouse is a community project run by the women of Taloa Village and a plaque on the wall next to the front door shows that it was renovated with funding from both the EU and AusAID in 2004. It's been nicely maintained since then, and it's clear that it has recently received a new of coat of blue paint.
A separate bungalow in the front garden has a display of locally-made handicrafts for sale, and classes in weaving, sewing and hand painting fabrics can be arranged. It's a well-known fact that some of the finest weaving in Shefa Province comes from Nguna. Caroline's specialty is woven turtles which she also sells through Activ at Second Lagoon in Port Vila.
Nakie women (Caroline in the back row, left) preparing to weave mats. Woven turtles are Caroline's specialty.
Taloa is the largest village on Nguna; a tidy, well-kept place, neatly hedged and free of litter. When we're done drowsing on the verandah we set out to explore, discovering the local store, the nakamal, the church and school. People are welcoming, some stopping to "storian" about where we're from, others acknowledging us with a raised eyebrow or a wave, all with a ready smile. We meet the local animal life too; friendly dogs, pigs in pens, tethered nanny goats, mother hens herding broods of chicks in the yards.
Taloa Village is the largest and most traditional of the villages on Nguna.
Later in the afternoon we feel it's time for a swim. We turn right when we come out of the guesthouse gate and a short walk brings us to the edge of the village. Following a well-worn path through the jungle we reach the brightly coloured Uduna Cove Bungalows and from there drop down onto the beach. It's a long stretch of white sand fringed by coconut palms on one side with views across to the moody, cloud-shrouded peaks of Efate on the other. In between is the sea, white-capped by fresh Trades and that impossible turquoise deepening to azure usually only seen in picture postcards. The water is warm as a bath and it's a marine protected area, good for snorkelling.
Despite it's relatively close proximity to Port Vila, this is a traditional, out-of-time place and visitors should be respectful of custom. I wear my outer island dresses; long, unsexy, loose-fitting affairs with modest necklines and short sleeves. I swim in board shorts and a T-shirt and have a funny sun tan.
Beach good for swimming and snorkelling in front of Uduna Cove Bungalows.
Dinner is just as delicious as lunch, and after a comfortable night's sleep we find ourselves eating again, breakfasting on Nguna-grown fruits and still-warm baked bread. We're vegetarians, and as long as this is explained when you book to come, it's no problem at all. Extensive food gardens beyond the village provide fresh ingredients and the Taloa women collectively cater, each contributing a dish to our meals.
We reluctantly pack up our bags and say our goodbyes. Caroline has been the perfect hostess, attentive and informative but never intrusive. She finds a young boy to show us the way to Unakapu Village, which is where we're headed to next, and waves us out of sight.
I lived in Port Vila, Vanuatu, from 2010 to 2016, sent by Volunteer Service Abroad (VSA).