Thanks to its crystal-clear, bright blue waters, Monte Neme looks practically out of this world. And given the Spanish lake’s dazzling appearance, it’s perhaps no surprise that social media influencers have flocked to the location in droves in search of the perfect Insta-shot. However, not all is as it seems at the attractive photo spot. You see, while the lake may appear alluring, it hosts a dark secret – one, in fact, that has the potential to turn deadly.
Yet Monte Neme frequently shows up in images on the internet – and it’s not hard to see why. For one, the lake – situated near to the Spanish area of Carbello – is remote and tranquil, making it a great place to relax and snap a picture or two. Then, of course, there’s the color of the waters: an almost unnaturally eye-catching shade of turquoise.
And Sarah Gerpe – who boasts close to 35,000 followers on Instagram – is among those who have ventured to this far-flung piece of northern Spain. On her page on the social media site, Gerpe boasts of being “in love with the sea and the mountains” and “addicted to swimming and free diving.”
Gerpe’s passion for outdoor pursuits may have led her to Monte Neme, then. And she’s no stranger to traveling, either. In her Instagram photos, the yoga teacher can be seen performing highly athletic poses both in Spain and further afield – including in Vietnam.
Other images of Gerpe’s show her bending and stretching at the Castro De Baroña fort in Galicia and the famous Guggenheim Museum Bilbao. In September 2017, however, the nature lover ventured to Monte Neme – even despite the location’s dark secret.
Gerpe posted a picture of herself standing in front of the lake while doing yet another yoga pose, in fact, and she accompanied the snap with the caption, “We have a limited time to be on Earth, and we should take advantage of it by doing something we really enjoy – not just living.” To date, the image has received over 1,500 likes.
Nor is Gerpe the only Instagram influencer to spend time at the lake. Self-proclaimed fashion designer Christian Lema – who has over 32,000 followers – also visited Monte Neme in December 2017. And the stylish content creator naturally uploaded a snap of himself at the picturesque location, where he can be seen in front of a clear blue sky and the shimmering waters of the lake itself.
Meanwhile, Spanish fashion blogger Iria, who runs the website My Blueberry Nights, drew praise from some of her 48,000-plus followers for her April 2018 photo at Monte Neme. One fan wrote, for example, “I could so totally be there right now! Love the outfit.” Another commented simply, “What a beautiful place.”
But while those Instagrammers merely posed in front of the lake, Izzyandtai went one further. Yes, in July 2019 he plunged into Monte Neme’s inviting waters, as can be seen from some of the resulting shots that he later posted on his Instagram page. And alongside one of the images, he seemingly hinted at the potential dangers that lurk within the lake.
“Morning bath in Monte Neme,” Izzyandtai wrote. “I am going to take a shower every summer day to show you that [there is] neither tungsten nor radioactive [material in the lake].” While the social media user was apparently aware that a quick dip may be ill-advised, then, that hadn’t put him off.
Yet a number of Izzyandtai’s followers didn’t seem to approve of the Instagram user’s decision. “Hey, bud, that has WWII-era waste in it. Good luck,” wrote one commenter. Another individual, by contrast, was less diplomatic, suggesting that Izzyandtai’s choice to jump into the water was “natural selection” at work.
Nevertheless, Izzyandtai didn’t seem to heed these warnings. On July 22, you see, he posted an image that yet again sees him in Monte Neme’s waters. “Third bath in this small lake, polluted mountain, radioactive reservoir or whatever you want to call it,” he remarked in his caption to the photo.
And this further jaunt had come even after the Instagrammer appeared to be experiencing skin issues. Another snap published to the social media site on July 18 shows a section of a noticeably inflamed and red arm, with Izzyandtai claiming that the image had been captured a week on from his first dip in the Monte Neme lake.
Yet despite any potential evidence to the contrary, Izzyandtai was still apparently unconvinced that there was any link between swimming in the body of water and what he would call his “marks and burns.” In a message above the photo of the arm, he wrote, “I doubt [these] have been caused by the bath.”
And Izzyandtai’s arm wasn’t the only part of his body to seemingly be affected by the lake, either. In another photo, he showed off what appeared to be a pair of yellow-tinged blisters on the top of one of his feet. The Instagram user added, “I’m a little more curious about these two burns on my foot. If anyone knows what they are, tell me.”
But regardless of Izzyandtai’s skepticism, others who have gone swimming in the Monte Neme lake seem to have paid the price. According to a July 2019 article by Spanish newspaper Público, one bather reported having battled with spells of nausea and unsightly hives following their time in the body of water.
And while another influencer named Uxía would reveal that their spell in the lake had left them with a two-week-long allergic reaction, they apparently had no regrets. “The photo was worth it,” they told Spanish radio station COPE Coruña in July 2019. Yes, it seems that even the potential for future health problems didn’t deter Uxía in the quest to get the perfect Instagram shot.
So, why does the Monte Neme lake pose such a risk to those who swim in it? Well, it’s mostly down to the location’s history as a tungsten mine. Extraction of the metal began at Monte Neme at around the time of World War I, with work continuing there until the 1980s.
Monte Neme’s rich reserves of tungsten even reportedly once caught the attention of Adolf Hitler. And according to Público, the Nazi leader then attempted to strongarm Spanish head of state General Francisco Franco into letting the Germans mine the metal. The resource was a precious one, you see, as it was only available in certain areas of Spain and Portugal.
Hitler had a bargaining chip, too. As German forces had backed up Franco’s Nationalists during the Spanish Civil War, it seemed only right to the Führer that his fellow dictator should return the favor. And any tungsten that could be mined at Monte Neme would come in useful during Germany’s war effort; the material could be used in lightbulbs, for example, or utilized to improve the tensile strength of steel.
Following World War II, however, the mine’s fortunes went into decline. And while the need for tungsten increased once again at the time of the Korean War, bringing the Monte Neme site back into demand, this wasn’t to last. Ultimately, then, the former money-spinner was abandoned after mining ceased in the 1980s.
And Monte Neme would suffer further misfortune in 2014. After a storm struck the area, a natural reservoir at the location burst its banks, with a torrent of contaminated water and mud then heading towards the Galician villages of Aviño and Razo da Costa. From an environmental point of view, the incident was a disaster.
Still, the Monte Neme lake’s potentially hazardous levels of tungsten haven’t stopped it from being promoted as a tourist attraction. That’s right: in 2017 the Galician government department Xunta de Galicia attempted to entice visitors to the area by using a snapshot of the body of water in a press advertisement.
The photo in question was published in a paper at the time alongside the hashtag #DámeGalicia – or “Give Me Galicia.” The image shows a young woman sitting above the blue lake and gazing at the attractive-looking water beneath a setting orange sky. Not everyone was impressed with the campaign, though.
The group Plataforma pola defensa de Monte Neme, for one, was highly critical of the move by Xunta de Galicia. The environmental organization works to promote awareness of the real story behind Monte Neme and to promote sustainability initiatives that may make the area a safer place to visit.
Perhaps partly as a result of that indictment, then, the Galician tourist board finally pulled the plug on any publicity of the lake. Replying to Plataforma pola defensa de Monte Neme’s tweet, Turismo de Galicia said, “Thanks for your comment. All images related to Monte Neme have now been removed from our campaign.”
Yet even though the Monte Neme lake may not be officially promoted as a must-see location, this hasn’t stopped Instagram influencers from continuing to flock to its azure waters. And, of course, this comes at some risk if they choose to take the plunge, according to Dr. Manuel Ferreiro.
Ferreiro, who works as an emergency physician at A Coruña University Hospital, told COPE Coruña, “Most likely [bathers would experience] eye… problems – irritation of the ocular mucous membranes – and skin rashes. If they’re in the lake for a while and they drink some water, they may also experience vomiting and diarrhea.”
Ferreiro continued, “The problem with [Monte Neme] is that the heavy metals there filter into groundwater, and this contaminates the locals’ drinking water supply.” The doctor added, however, that anyone who chooses to take just a short dip in the lake is unlikely to come to serious harm.
Yet Monte Neme is not the only potentially hazardous place to become popular with Instagram influencers. One lake in Russia has also proved a draw, it seems – and that’s despite the fact that it also boasts a considerable level of contamination.
Thanks to the lake’s clear blue waters and the pristine white sand that surrounds them, the area has even earned its own nickname: the “Siberian Seychelles.” And given the body of water’s almost otherworldly hue, it’s easy to see why Instagram users have come to the site near Novosibirsk in search of a pretty picture or two.
However, just like Monte Neme, the Siberian attraction has its own fair share of chemical damage. And that’s made plain by its official moniker, which reportedly translates into English as “Lake Ash Dump.” Waste material from a nearby power station filters into the water, you see, and the resulting by-products have made the lake incredibly alkaline.
And as with Monte Neme, the levels of contamination at Lake Ash Dump haven’t deterred some from using the feature as an eye-catching backdrop for photos. One Russian couple even embarked on a wedding-themed photoshoot there, with the pair seen kissing, holding each other and walking around the lake area in images that were later posted to Instagram.
What’s more, people come to take pictures at Lake Ash Dump in spite of its offputting odor. Speaking about the distinctive scent in a July 2019 interview with The Siberian Times, photographer Mikhail Reshetnikov explained, “When you drive up to this lake, there is a very strong smell of laundry detergent, of alkali.”
Reshetnikov continued, “Naturally, there is no desire to touch such water. You just feel that this is not a safe place.” Nevertheless, the snapper chose the lake as the location for one of his shoots; fellow professional photographer Max Frolov has also captured the turquoise waters in his work.
And all this comes despite a warning from the Siberian Generating Company, which runs the local power plant. In a post made in June 2019 on the Russian social media site VK, the firm urged potential visitors to resist the temptation to plunge into the lake, writing, “We beg you not to fall into the ash dump in the pursuit of selfies!”
The Siberian Generating Company continued, “Swimming in the ash dump is not permissible. The water… has a high alkaline environment… [as] calcium salts and other metal oxides are dissolved in it. [And] skin contact with such water can lead to an allergic reaction. The bottom of the ash dump is [also] silty, [meaning] it is almost impossible to get out of the reservoir on your own.”
And the experience of Russian Instagrammer Alex bears those words of caution out. In a post made to the site in July 2019, he explained that after his time in the lake, his “legs [had] turned slightly red and itched for two days.” Nevertheless, the Siberian man maintained, “It’s not dangerous to swim here.”
The picture accompanying Alex’s message sees him dressed in a balaclava and riding an inflatable unicorn that floats on top of the chemical-polluted water. And while the image is undoubtedly arresting, it seems that it came at the expense of the Instagram user’s own well-being. Alex isn’t the first to risk his health in pursuit of the perfect photo, though – and he likely won’t be the last.